This week’s wine news is all about the three-tier system – a well-written story about how it works, plus updates on marijuana and Utah.
• “It’s impossible to taste 645 wines:” Jeremy Baker of Food52, a self-described “amateur wine lover,” writes about his adventure in the three-tier system, and he spends a lot of time down the rabbit hole. Baker interviews a wine shop owner, who explains what it’s like to taste hundreds of wines a week to decide what to carry, and gets to visit a trade tasting where 645 wines are being shown. “The tasting list is in actuality a 166-page book,” he writes, and his amazement goes on from there. That Baker can actually begin to imagine the difficulties that the system imposes on retailers is the strength of the story. My only regret is that he doesn’t assess the system and decide if it’s time is past. Otherwise, highly recommended reading.
• Don’t trust the wholesalers: Tom Wark, whose crusade against the three-tier system makes my opinions seem like a child’s musings, has a warning for the marijuana business: “Whatever you do, don’t allow America’s alcohol wholesalers anywhere near your growing and soon-to-be-legal industry.” Wark’s post explains why he doesn’t want the legal weed business to be dominated by the distributor-based system that controls the wine supply chain. My favorite part? Where he quotes a distributor trade group, which says legal marijuana needs three-tier to prevent illegal sales. Which, of course, sounds like an argument only Dave would understand.
• Only in Utah: Regular visitors know how much the WC appreciates Utah’s Kafka-esque interpretation of three-tier, and this is yet another example. Under a new tasting law, liquor producers must have a “distinct area for consumption” so that tastings are “outside the view of minors” who may be at the winery. In other words, wineries can only do tastings in a back room out of sight of any children who may be at the winery. Which presupposes that kids are flocking to wineries and craft beer and spirits producers to watch adults sample the product. Could be worse, though: What happens when the Utah legislature finds out kids might be watching their parents drink at home?
? One person’s inexpensive: One more example of how restaurants are out of touch with their customers when it comes to restaurant wine prices. This new Dallas restaurant is boasting about its reasonably-priced list, because, said a restaurant official, “We have a low mark up on our wines, so we ?re priced fantastic.” That would be a wine list with most wines supposedly costing less than $100 (no website for the restaurant yet, so I couldn’t check). What would the official have said if there had been really expensive wines on the list? Is it any wonder, unless there’s a special reason to go, that the Wine Curmudgeon has all but abandoned Dallas’ restaurants? Besides, it’s more fun eating at home.
? Bigger and bigger: It’s not just wine companies that are getting bigger, but distributors as well. Wine Industry Insight reports that the 10 biggest distributors in the country control more than two-thirds of the wholesale business, which makes the group more or less as dominant as Big Wine. Why does that matter to consumers? Because, thanks to three-tier, every wine sold to a retailer or a restaurant in the U.S. has to pass through a distributor, which tacks on as much as 25 percent to the cost of the bottle for their effort. Fewer and bigger distributors means less competition, which means that percentage won’t get any smaller any time soon.
? Best practices: Want to know how to help your wine survive shipment, whether it comes directly from the winery or from an online or local retailer? This list, from Entrepreneur magazine, hits the highlights nicely, emphasizing how little wine likes heat, vibrations, and being left on a delivery truck all day. One overlooked point: Give the wine, particularly the pricier bottles, a chance to recover from the trip. The bottles need to rest after being bumped across the country, and letting them sit in a cool, dark room for a week or so isn’t a bad idea.