Tag Archives: wine lawsuits

Wine pricing foolishness, and how one group stopped it

Wine pricing

Prices, prices, what’s the real price?

It’s time to bring on the lawyers when wine pricing reality gets out of hand

We’ve written many times about the foolishness of post-modern wine pricing – the phony suggested retail prices, the discounts that aren’t exactly discounts, and all the rest. In fact, in the past couple of weeks, I saw a $10 bottle of California rose that carried a “real” price of $20 at my local Kroger, while the Central Market chain sold a Texas white for $16 in Austin and $11 in Dallas.

What can be done about this? If you’re an attorney who likes wine, you can sue.

The Wine Industry Insight website and Wines & Vines magazine have the details: A group of law firms claimed that Wines ‘Til Sold Out, a California cyber-retailer, used deceptive pricing to confuse consumers about what they were buying. To this, they have apparently reached a settlement worth $12.6 million in cash and consumer credits.

Wine Industry Insight reports that “the defendant denies all wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, the attorneys involved have agreed to make no public comment.” And, since I don’t want to be sued, I make no claim I know exactly what happened.

But the attorneys’ complaint seems to address the sort of practice that’s common at too many retailers. For example, wrote Wines & Vines, the lawsuit alleged that Wines ‘Til Sold Out “created wine brands with private-label companies and then offered those wines with discounts not based on any actual retail value and offered other wines with exaggerated retail prices to make the discounts appear even larger.”

One example cited in the lawsuit: A California cabernet sauvignon, which was supposed to cost $35 and was discounted to $13.99. But those prices apparently didn’t exist anywhere other than the Wines ‘Til Sold Out website.

I see that practice – or something similar to it – frequently when I shop for wine, though more often at grocery stores and the largest chain retailers. It’s incredibly frustrating; how are we supposed to know if we’re paying a fair price?

Fortunately, there are a couple of things those of use who aren’t attorneys can do. First, know that any discount that seems to be that big, like the $20 rose marked down to $10, is too good to be true, and that the real price is probably closer to the “sale” price. Second, check Wine-Searcher.com for the wine. If it’s not listed, it may well be a private label described in the lawsuit, where the pricing is meaningless. Third, Wine-Searcher’s average price for wine in its database is usually dependable. If you see the same wine, including vintage, marked down, then it should be a fair value.

Winebits 473: New Year wine legal affairs edition

wine legal affairsThis week’s wine news: We start 2017 with items from the almost Python-esque world of wine legal affairs

What’s in a name? Regular visitors here know how much the Wine Curmudgeon appreciates lawsuits about wine names, and there is another one – the small producer that makes a label called Six Degrees is suing the big producer that makes a label called 6°. To make the case more interesting, the small producer is family owned and the big producer is owned by members of the family that owns Bronco Wine, one of the biggest wine companies in the world. And there’s a great lawyer’s quote, too, hinting at blackmail. With a spectator sport like this, who needs football?

Only in Michigan: Utah is generally considered to have the most restrictive liquor laws in the country, but Michigan – home to the Granholm direct shipping case – is also a contender. That’s why this news, that the state is relaxing its notorious direct shipping requirements, is notable. The post is difficult to follow unless you practice wine law, but this analogy works: Previously, shipping wine into Michigan was the equivalent of wearing three pairs of socks when most of us only wear one pair. Now, it’s the equivalent of wearing two pairs of socks. Still unnecessary, but not as awkward.

Yes, but what about Utah? Not to be outdone by Michigan, a Utah legislator has proposed lowering the state’s legal alcohol limit to .05%, the lowest in the country – about the same as couple of of glasses of wine with dinner and which would make drunk drivers out of every social drinker in the state. The idea is not new, and it’s just as noxious now as it was then. As this well-reported story from the Las Angeles Times notes, drunk driving deaths in the U.S. have fallen by one-third over the past three decades. As Mothers Against Drunk Driving pointed out a couple of years ago, social drinkers aren’t the problem. It’s the repeat offender who drives drunk, even after arrests and license suspensions.

Winebits 461: Stags Leap lawsuit, restaurant wine, wine history

 stags leap lawsuitThis week’s wine news: Big Wine and the new Stags Leap lawsuit, plus buying cheap restaurant wine and wine’s history

One more time: One of the great wine lawsuits was Napa’s Stag’s Leap vs. Napa’s Stags’ Leap, which was settled 30 years when a court ordered the apostrophes you see in this sentence. Now, the two sides, each owned by Big Wine, are suing each other over the stag in their names — the return of the Stags Leap lawsuit. Stag’s Leap, owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle, is suing Stag’s Leap, owned by Australia’s Treasury, claiming that a new Treasury wine called The Stag infringes on its name. Treasury says The Stag has nothing to do with Stag’s Leap or Stags’ Leap, and is actually taken from an Australian winery. Where is Monty Python when we need them?

The cheapest: We’re not the only ones fed up with high restaurant wine prices. British food critic Jay Rayner, reports The Telegraph newspaper, says we “should only buy house wine in restaurants in protest at complex and overpriced wine lists,” and that “expensive wines should only ever be bought in shops and enjoyed at home.” Which sounds like a fine plan, and something I have mostly done for years. Rayner, speaking at a literary festival, said he was eating at one of London’s most chi-chi restaurants: “I asked the waiter if he could find me a bottle of pinot noir for under £50 (US$61). He looked at me as if I was some kind of scum on his heel and he couldn’t so I then called him back and said, ‘there’s one for £49, you didn’t even know your own wine list.’ ”

The oldest? Archaeologists have found a 6,100-year-old winery in a cave in the Armenian mountains, making it perhaps the oldest winery in the world. The researchers found a drinking bowl, a grape press, a cup, and fermentation jars in the republic, which borders Turkey and Iran near the Black Sea. The India Times reported that UCLA’s Gregory Areshian, the co-director of the excavation, said the wine made there may be similar to a modern unfiltered red wine and may have had a similar taste to a merlot. Yes, but Areshian didn’t answer the most important question: How many points did the wine get?

Winebits 454: Judgment of Paris, wine pricing, low alcohol wine

Judgment of ParisThis week’s news: An analysis of the scoring at the legendary Judgment of Paris, plus retailer Total Wine sues to lower prices, and a low alcohol wine brand.

It’s all in the scores: David Morrison, writing on the Academic Wino site, discusses the scores given to the wines at the Judgment of Paris, where California bested France and established the U.S. as a top wine producing country. It’s a fascinating post, and the math isn’t too difficult to follow. In this, it shows just random the experts’ scores seem to be. As Morrison writes, “Instead, the differences among the judges were much larger than among the wines. Of the 11 judges, it seems that 5 were fairly consistent among themselves as to which wines they thought were high quality, while the other 6 were not, and these two groups provided rather different scores from each other.” And yet we use scores to continue to determine wine quality, despite all these limitations.

Lawsuit for lower prices: Retailer Total Wine has sued the state of Connecticut, saying that state laws that set minimum prices for alcohol violate federal law. Connecticut prohibits liquor retailers from selling wine and spirits below cost in almost all cases, the only state in the union that does so (though other states have minimum pricing laws). The Total lawsuit, one more in a long line filed by the fast-expanding retailer, is yet another challenge to the three-tier system of regulation that has governed booze sales since the end of Prohibition. Ironically, the Connecticut law is only 35 years old, but was passed to update minimum pricing laws that had already been in place, and may have been there to regulate alcohol consumption as much as to protect retailers.

Less alcohol, same taste: In the on-going debate over high alcohol wines, those who like high alcohol argue that it’s the only way to get big fruit flavors. That’s where a New Zealand producer says it has found a way to get those fruit flavors, but at lower alcohols. The idea sounds goofy to me – rocks in the vineyard that hold heat from sunlight – but Stoneleigh Vineyards says it can get fruit flavors and alcohol levels at less than 10 percent, about one-quarter lower than normal. The lower alcohol wines aren’t available in the U.S., so I can’t tell you whether they’re any good. But I will keep an eye out for them.

Winebits 435: Wine lawsuits and legal foolishness edition

wine lawsuits

“We can win that moonshine thing easy.”

This week, more legal foolishness from the world of alcohol and wine lawsuits. Because, of course, even those of us who didn’t write “Bleak House” and “The Pickwick Papers” see the humor in lawsuits:

More Champagne foolishness: Our friends at the Champagne trade association have been at it again – what the post calls their “protectionist racket” – in a lawsuit to stop an English brewer from marketing a beer called “Champale” that is made with “Champagne-style” yeast and sold in “Champagne-stye bottles.” Yes, somewhere Dickens is laughing and reaching for his quill, though the report on the TechDirt website notes the brewery won the suit and will be allowed to use the name Champale. No doubt the Champagne bully boys will come up with another plan.

Moonshine foolishness: This news has been around for a while, but it gives me the chance to comment on another of my favorite subjects, the corruption of college athletics. How else to explain the lawsuit filed against a craft distiller, who makes a product called Kentucky Mist Moonshine, by those guardians of higher learning at the University of Kentucky? Who, believe it or not, say they are the only ones legally allowed to use the word “Kentucky” for business purposes. Let me just say this, which should give you an idea how morally bankrupt I consider the university’s position to be: “Kentucky!” “Kentucky!” “Kentucky!” I will also note that the school’s basketball coach and his two assistants earn almost $10 million a year combined – a total that would pay the in-state tuition and room and board for almost 350 students. But we have to have our priorities, don’t we?

Big Beer foolishness: Diageo, one of the three or four biggest drinks companies on the planet, has won a significant lawsuit because a judge said any reasonable consumer should know that Red Stripe beer is not made in Jamaica and doesn’t use any Jamaican ingredients. This ruling comes despite the beer’s label, which says “Jamaican Style Lager” and “The Taste of Jamaica” and uses the same logo the beer uses when it is made in Jamaica and not made in Pennsylvania (in tiny letters elsewhere on the label). It’s good to know the justice system is hard at work protecting massive multi-nationals; maybe the Champagne people should have tried their case in front of this judge.

Winebits 405: Legal affairs edition

legal affairsBecause what fun would writing about wine be if we couldn’t write about lawsuits and other various legal affairs?

? Aldi brings in the lawyers: It’s difficult for those of us in the U.S. to understand how touchy the British are about price comparison advertising and marketing for booze; hopefully, this bit about Aldi suing a retailer over price comparison will help explain. The discount retailer wants competitor Bargain Booze to stop the ads, which compare its products to Aldi’s with the tagline that they you can buy a brand name for the same price as Aldi’s private label. Plus, Aldi wants damages. I’d love to watch a bunch of barristers in wigs argue about this, but as much fun as it would be, the suit would have little chance of success in the U.S. That’s ironic, too, given that our booze laws, thanks to three-tier, are so much stricter than those in Britain.

? Messing with Putin: Who knew that a geopolitical event like the Russian annexation of the Crimea would turn into a wine legal tussle? But it has, with Ukrainian prosecutors charging that the director of a winery in Russian-occupied Crimea opened a 240-year-old bottle for Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. The Associated Press says that the two men illegally drank rare vintages from the Massandra winery, some worth tens of thousands of dollars, and that the winery director committed a crime by serving them the wine. Obviously, since the Russians control Crimea, nothing much will happen, but it’s another example of the power wine has over people. I wonder: did Putin and Berlusconi give the wines 95 points?

? Only in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s state store system has come in for its fair share of criticism, here and elsewhere, but this one is the best yet. A state resident illegally brought wine into the state, which means he likely bought it in New Jersey and drove it over the William Penn bridge, committing a crime in the process. As part of his settlement with the state, he had to forfeit about half of the 2,447 illegal bottles. Silly enough? It gets worse. As Bloomberg News Service’s Noah Feldman writes, the state will destroy the wine because a judge has ruled that it can’t be given to a hospital for fund-raising, since hospitals don’t use wine for medicinal purposes. Don’t worry if you’re confused here, since the entire episode — in keeping with Pennsylvania’s warped state store system — makes no sense. Just read the link and wonder at how this happens in the 21st century.

Winebits 384: Odd grapes, wine glasses, wine lawsuit

wine lawsuit ? Only seven percent: Regular visitors here know the Wine Curmudgeon’s passion for odd grapes, and it’s good to know that I’m not the only one. By one estimate, eight grapes account for 93 percent of the annual harvest in California — chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot, pinot noir, syrah, sauvignon blanc, and cabernet franc. A group of winemakers, reports Marcy Gordon at Come for the Wine, wants to focus on the other seven percent, and is holding a couple of tastings this week to show off those grapes. This is most welcome news for those of us who care about diversity and variety in wine, as well as style and taste. That someone who makes wine isn’t intimidated by chenin blanc is some of the best news that wine drinkers can have.

? The right way: Sommelier Stephanie Miskew writes about how to hold a wine glass correctly, which always makes me smile It’s about the only thing in wine that I’m a snob about; I can’t stand to see a wine glass held by the bowl, and when I see it in TV shows and movies I want to throw something at the screen. Miskew’s piece hits all the highlights, and it also gives me a chance to link to this: Wine Curmudgeon video, in which I demonstrate how to hold a wine glass.

? Calling all lawyers: Wine’s legal experts are at it again, with a Champagne house suing a top California producer over the name of a wine. Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight has all of the wonderfully silly details about this wine lawsuit, including that the side are fighting over the name “Delice.” Imagine all of the time and money being spent on what seems to be a very ordinary, if not lousy, name for a wine. At least the Cristalino lawsuit was over a name that mattered.