Tag Archives: wine regulation

How to stop Amazon Go: Try to buy wine

amazon go

Look at the lower right: In the most high-tech store in the history of the world, “We check ID.”

The Amazon Go employee-less store actually has an employee – to check IDs if you want to buy wine or beer

Amazon’s failure in the wine business, where it shuttered not one, but two sites, might be the only defeat the retail giant has ever suffered. So it’s probably no surprise that its new, revolutionary Amazon Go store, designed without employees or checkout lines and which has panicked every other retailer in the world, does have an employee: To check your ID if you want to buy wine.

Call it the revenge of the three-tier system.

None of the store’s incredible 21st century technology can do the ID job, even though (as described by Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech) there are so many cameras that it’s impossible not to be seen: “They watch your every move from the moment you walk in and scan your smartphone. Every item you pick up and put down is then tracked to you as an entity – not by your face, but by your body and hands milling about and grabbing stuff.” The system works so well that it even foiled Machkovech’s attempts to steal something.

But not for booze. Writes Machkovech: “The other unusual process involves purchasing alcohol. Amazon Go leaves one staffer in the back of the shop next to a selection of beer and wine in order to check IDs. There was nothing fancy or high-tech about this when I went to peruse the beer.”

Of course, nothing fancy or high tech – because we regulate wine, beer, and spirits using last century’s three-tier system, devised when there were still ice wagons, an orange was an exotic Christmas gift, and nine out 10 rural homes didn’t have electricity.

The Wine Curmudgeon does not advocate underage drinking, and I have always emphasized responsible alcohol consumption on the blog. But – and I know a little about post-modern tech, how this sort of operation works, and a decade’s worth of improvements in ID technology – it’s inconceivable that Amazon didn’t find a way to check IDs using something other than a person. It’s difficult to believe that there’s no way to tie an Amazon account to the person who owns it, so that a 16-year-old can’t pose as someone who is 37.

But it probably didn’t even bother. The failure of both Amazon wine stores taught one of the world’s most powerful and influential companies an important lesson: You can’t beat the three-tier system.

Photo courtesy of Recode/Jason Del Ray, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 377: Wine rant, direct shipping, wine police

stuart piggott ? There’s ranting, and then there’s ranting: Stuart Piggott, an English wine writer who lives in Germany and champions riesling, has had quite enough of overoaked, high alcohol chardonnay, thank you very much. His screed takes on Kistler, one of the most popular (and expensive) of those wines; imagine Monty Python meeting GoodFellas. It’s funny, spot on, and contains a couple of words we don’t use on the blog for those of you who worry about those things. Most importantly, Piggott doesn’t dismiss all chardonnay because of some, but points out that chardonnay that’s varietally correct is still one of the great wines in the world.

? A long way to go: ShipCompliant, which helps wineries with the maze that are federal and state liquor laws. notes that we still have a long to go before out-of-state retailers can ship wine to most consumers. Currently, only 14 states allow retailer shipping, and that doesn’t include the biggest markets in the country, like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. The Wine Curmudgeon, who has often been accused of disparaging direct shipping, mentions this not for that reason, but to note that until three-tier changes, most of us will not be able to legally order wine from an out of state retailer, no matter what the hype.

? Turn it into bio-fuel: How out of touch with reality are liquor cops and health officials? Consider this, from South Africa, where cheap pinotage has been accused of causing one region’s drinking problems. The Western Cape premier wants producers to turn their grapes into bio-fuel instead of wine as one way to combat the problem, but apparently failing to note that there is no feasible method to do that and that other booze, like ale, is substantially cheaper than wine. Said a wine industry spokesman: “We accept that alcohol abuse is a very big problem in the Western Cape, but we believe that there should be a focus on illegal traders and [unlicensed bars] — some of whom even sell alcohol on credit.”

Winebits 342: High alcohol, wine real estate, and the norton grape

high alcohol wine ? No more high alcohol, please: The British government, searching for some way to curb the country’s binge drinking problem, wants to limit the alcohol content of the house wine sold in pubs and restaurants to 12 1/2 percent. This is stunning news, even to the Wine Curmudgeon, who thinks lower alcohol is almost always better than higher. Somehow, I don’t think — regardless of any Neo-Prohibitionist developments here — that alcohol limits will ever happen in the U.S.

?More money than they know what to do with: The recession in the high-end part of the wine business is over, if people with more money than everyone else are any indication. The Grape Collective reports that “lifestyle” buyers, who don’t necessarily want to make wine or grow grapes but who think it’s tres chic to own a piece of wine country, are back in the market. Says one analyst: “Lifestyle buyers want a gorgeous house with a vineyard view, and then possibly a small source of income. They ?ll generally take their grapes to a custom crush house and either sell or simply give away as business gifts. ? The middle six figures will get you something in Tuscany, and Napa is actually a little less expensive. Maybe it’s time for the Wine Curmudgeon to call his Realtor.

? You can’t beat the norton: Vinepar takes a look at the norton grape, long one of my favorites and too often overlooked in the U.S. The piece is a solid introduction to the grape, which thrived in this country at the turn of the 20th century and still makes delicious red wine. The best look at the norton? In Todd Kliman’s fascinating book, “The Wild Vine.” Or, as I wrote when I reviewed it, “Kliman offers some much-needed insight into the history of American wine. It’s a perspective that says, ‘Look, pay attention. Long before Robert Parker and scores and California, there was a U.S. wine industry. And if a few things had happened differently. …’ “

Winebits 321: NeoDry edition

Winebits 321: NeoDry edition

No, no, no — drinking isn’t good for you.

Because there are a lot of people who don’t drink or think those of us who do drink too much:

? One out of two: One of the most telling statistics in the wine world? That 40 percent of Americans don’t drink, a figure that shows up in almost survey of U.S. liquor habits. It showed up again in the recent Wine Market Council study of wine drinking in 2013, where 35 percent of respondents said they didn’t drink and 21 percent were identified as “non-adapters,” those who drink rarely. In other words, more than one-half of adults in the U.S. aren’t interested in drinking wine, one of the few pieces of bad news in a report that otherwise demonstrated wine’s growing popularity. Regular visitors here know who the Wine Curmudgeon blames for this, and it’s not religion. It’s the wine business, for doing everything it can to make wine too difficult for all but the most dedicated among us.

? Ending cancer by abstinence: That’s the goal of the World Health Organization, which said in its 2014 report that alcohol is one of the seven leading causes of cancer, and that cancer is growing at unprecedented rates. Hence the only way to halt the growth was to eliminate the causes, like drinking. Said one of the report’s editors: “”The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labelling of alcohol, the promotion of alcohol and the price of alcohol — those things should be on the agenda.” Ironically, it also cited delayed parenthood and having fewer children as a major cause of cancer, which makes the Wine Curmudgeon wonder: If we eliminate drinking, how are we going to solve the fewer children problem?

? Not at the World Cup: Want to get a belt while watching soccer’s World Cup on TV later this year? It will be more difficult in Britain, where the government has banned cutting booze prices to attract customers. The Drinks Business trade magazine reports that the crime prevention minister said: ?The coalition Government is determined to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime, which costs England and Wales around 11 billion (about US$18.5 billion) a year.” Ironically, the minimum pricing scheme has been criticised by alcohol charities, including Alcohol Concern, which said the measures were ?laughable ? and that enforcing it would be impossible. Even the government said it woudn’t cut drinking by much, and that ?limited impact on responsible consumers who drink moderate amounts of alcohol.” Almost makes three-tier sound like a good idea, no?

 

 

Winebits 316: Two-buck Chuck, Pennsylvania, Kickstarter

Winebits 316: Two-buck Chuck, Pennsylvania, Kickstarter ? But what about the terroir? Ben Robinson at The Thrillist challenges a sommelier to taste Two-buck Chuck to find out “which bottles are totally palatable and even enjoyable. …” It’s an intriguing exercise, and most of the eight wines do well enough (as regular visitors here know). The annoying bit is the post’s snarkiness, because this is cheap wine and it certainly can’t be approached seriously. The most interesting? That the sommelier could only identify the varietal in four of the eight wines. If someone whose entire wine reason for being is baffled by what’s in the glass, what does that say about how indifferent the winemaker is to varietal character? And, more importalty, given Two-buck Chuck’s popularity, it demonstrates that the producer understands that varietal isn’t as important as price with consumers. Not that I’ve ever argued either of those points.

? Finally, after all this wait? Pennsylvania’s state store system, in which the government owns the liquor stores, may finally come to an end. That’s the optimistic reading of this report from Morning call newspaper website: “A suitable deal has eluded lawmakers for the last three years ? really for decades ? as other Republican-led liquor privatization efforts have fizzled. … Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said he hopes to have a liquor reform bill passed and on [the governor’s] desk before the governor’s Feb. 4 budget address.” If Pennsylvania reforms its state state system, that could be the first domino to fall in reform plans elsewhere, including grocery store wine sales in New York. Which means, as the story also notes, that it probably won’t be as easy to change the Pennsylvania laws as everyone hopes.

? Another wine book: Congratulations to Alder Yarrow, the long-time wine blogger at Vinography, who raised $24,200 on Kickstarter for the publication of his new book , “The Essence of Wine.” That beat his goal by more than $6,000. Welcome to the club, Alder. The more I see this going on, the more convinced I am that self-publishing, using some sort of crowd-sourcing, is the future of the book business for those of us who aren’t Stephen King.

Wine trends in 2014

Wine trends in 2014The wine business in 2014 won’t be so much about varietal or sweet, though both will matter. Rather, wine trends in 2014 will be about the continuing transformation of wine into a truly global business, focusing on:

? Increased retail availability — more wines in more and different kinds of stores, and especially grocery stores. This means attempts to change state laws where that’s illegal

? More consolidation among producers — not just the biggest getting bigger, the trend over the past decade, but consolidation among mid-sized wineries, which will be folded into companies specificially formed for that purpose.

? The growing importance of the consumer, who is beginning to drink what he or she wants and forcing the wine business to adjust, rather than the other way around.

Mixed in with this will be renewed attempts by the neo-Probhibitionists in goverment and medicine to reduce wine consumption. More, after the jump:

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Winebits 195: Joe Bastianich, alcohol regulation, wine truth

Some really fine writing in the cyber-ether in the last week or so, and more than worthy of a second look:

? You're in big trouble, Joe Bastianich: The Italian Wine Guy's Mom is mad at you. What were you thinking, calling a rose — our beloved rose — a bisexual on The Today Show? I can't quote verbatim what Elissa Cevola told her son (since this is a family blog), but it's enough to note that one of the mildest words she used was fool. And that Mrs. Cevola thinks Joe is not nice enough to his mom, the chef and restaurant owner Lidia Bastianich.

? It's black and white: Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice wants to know why state regulators are threatening to ban an urban-themed alcoholic beverage, Blast, yet don't seem worried by a similar drink, which has no hip-hop connotations. Writes Tom: "Seventeen states attorneys general have banded together to protest Blast. Interestingly, none have joined to protest the recent release of Bacardi Classic Cocktail Pi a Colada, which, like Snoop Dogg ?s Blast, contains fruit flavors and sugar, but clocks in at a whopping 15 percent alcohol. The Pi a Colada mix is marketed primarily to white suburbanites. It ?s probably just an oversight. I ?m sure the attorneys general are going to line up against Bacardi soon."

? Right on, sister: Please, please, please read this, wine industry. Forget your focus groups and your scores and your shelf talkers. This, from the Hairpin blog, which is apparently aimed at your target audience — middle-class women of a certain age: "For some reason wine has become this thing. This huge inflated pompous thing that people have invented corny language around, jacked up costs for, and made intimidating as all hell. Then you find yourself retreating to your couch with whatever's cheapest and goes well with sweats, or smiling through a glass of something at a dinner party that you can't pronounce and aren't sure if you're supposed to enjoy, instead of actually enjoying the wine." The Wine Curmudgeon wishes he had written this. Boy, do I wish I had written this.