Tag Archives: wine trends

Follow-up: The sham and hypocrisy behind the three-tier system

three-tier system

“Ain’t it grand to be doing journalism again?”

Was the cyber-ether outraged by my three-tier system post? Nope. It mostly agreed. And that may be the biggest surprise of all

The blog’s traffic for the two days after Thursday’s three-tie system post was greater than any two-day period in the past 18 months, about three times normal.

So one would expect lots of comments, lots of emails, lots of flaming, right? After all, this is the Internet in the second decade of the 21st century, isn’t it?

In fact, just the opposite happened: Hardly a murmur of protest, hardly any comments, and only one person who canceled their email to the blog. In my world, cancellations are the mark of a controversial post – the more controversial, the more cancellations. But in this case, more people were worried that I would be arrested for illegally ordering wine from an out-of-state retailer than the number who called me names. How weird is that in today’s cyber-ether?

But, after parsing what happened over the past couple of days, maybe it’s not really weird at all. That’s because almost everyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in protecting the system accepts it for what it is – obsolete and inefficient on its best days, and corrupt on its worst. So why bother to complain? As one comment put it: “The three-tier system exists only to protect distributors – the health issue is pure hypocrisy. …”

Which speaks to a larger and more troubling point – not just about wine regulation, but about how the world works these days. The sense is that those in charge will do what they want to do, be it in politics, banking, Wall Street, technology, or the Internet, and that there is little the rest of us can do about it.

Frankly, that is a decidedly un-American approach, and it’s one I don’t believe in. If I did, I’ve wasted most of my professional life, and I know I haven’t done that. And it also explains why I wrote the post and set up the reverse sting – if the Winestream Media is going to acquiesce, that’s all the more reason for the rest of us to rouse as much rabble as we can. Which I have done my entire professional life, and which I will keep doing until I am buried, keyboard between crossed arms.

And, sadly, it also explains why so many people were worried I would be arrested. They’ve forgotten what the news media is supposed to do, which is journalism — and which is not reprinting news releases touched up with bad, punny headlines When I was a young newspaperman, this sort of thing was common – the Mirage Tavern, the bible that wasn’t in the room, and so many more. These days, newspapers are assets to be butchered to make even more money for their owners, who are usually already richer than the rest of us.

Am I the New York Times, and will this post change the world immediately? Nope. But every bit helps, and especially at a time when we need help so badly.

The sham and hypocrisy behind the three-tier system

three-tier

“Quick — get the wine unloaded before anyone spots us.”

The Wine Curmudgeon buys wine from an out-of-state retailer – even though it’s illegal

A case of Domaine Tariquet was delivered via Fed Ex to Wine Curmudgeon international headquarters in Dallas this week. The shipment violated the laws of two states – that of the retailer who sold me the wine, and Texas, which forbids shipments from out-of-state wine retailers. Welcome to the sham and hypocrisy that is the three-tier system.

Why a sham? Because the liquor cops in Texas and in the retailer’s state both know I bought the wine, since Fed Ex and UPS send so-called common carrier reports to the agencies. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission received the electronic paperwork saying the order was shipped to my house; the retailer’s state alcoholic enforcement agency got the same thing when the order was shipped.

I’m not going to name the retailer or its state; let the liquor authorities do their own investigating. Click the links to see the address label and the alcohol warning label that said the package wasn’t olive oil. Also, everyone quoted in this post was given confidentiality, since I committed a crime with my purchase.

So why did my reverse sting operation work? Because each state doesn’t always enforce the interstate retail ban, according to a prominent liquor law attorney.

“It’s not high on the list of priorities,” he told me. “Most of the time, unless someone objects to that kind of sale, they don’t do anything about it. It’s like enforcing the speed limit on a highway. The police may not enforce it for a long time because they have other things to do – until someone complains about speeding, and then they set up a speed trap.”

And, now – hypocrisy

Interstate retail shipping is banned in most of the U.S. in the interest of “public health and safety” – the legal doctrine that has overseen liquor law since the end of Prohibition. Yet, more than a century later, state regulators and legislators still insist that it’s not safe for me to order wine from a retailer in another state. Yet, if it’s so dangerous, why isn’t it enforced more often?

The answer can be found in the July 8 decision by the Ohio attorney general to sue Wine.com and six other interstate retailers for selling wine to Ohio residents in violation of the state’s interstate shipping ban. Yet, according to two people with knowledge of the attorney general’s suit, Wine.com has been selling wine in Ohio in violation of the ban for more than a decade – and the Ohio Division of Liquor Control knew it was doing so and exchanged letters with the company acknowledging the practice.

The July 8 lawsuit, says the prominent liquor attorney, fits a pattern – interstate shipping bans are often enforced only when wholesalers and distributors press the issue. In Ohio, Wine.com and the other retailers weren’t buying from Ohio distributors, as required by law, but from distributors in other states. This lost business, combined with the dramatic drop in restaurant wine sales during the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing legal direct-to-consumer wine shipments in Ohio, probably had the wholesalers “crapping in their pants,” e-mailed an Ohio wine business consultant who has worked with the state’s distributors. No wonder, he wrote, that they pressured Ohio authorities to sue the interstate retailers in an attempt to redirect the lost business and revenue their way.

So where’s the public health and safety?

And, in fact, the news release announcing the lawsuit barely mentioned “public health and safety.” Instead, it emphasized lost tax revenue and lost retail sales, quoting an Ohio retailer and distributor. In addition, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association, the national distributor trade group, issued a news release saying the same things. The attorney general’s spokesman didn’t respond to two requests for an interview for this post.

Keep in mind that this post isn’t about defending an illegal practice. If anyone violated the law, they should be punished, whether Wine.com (which is a long-time supporter of the blog) or me. And this post doesn’t advocate selling liquor without regulations — we certainly need regulation, but regulations that are fair and efficient.

Because selective enforcement isn’t either. If interstate wine shipping is truly dangerous, then the ban needs to be enforced. Because if the ban isn’t enforced, then it follows that interstate shipping isn’t as dangerous as it’s supposed to be. And if that’s the case, why have the ban at all?

Photo: Odd Truck” by oliva732000 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Geyser Peak gets a new owner – can that save the brand?

geyser peak

“Seriously — someone put riesling in this?”

Geyser Peak, once a great cheap wine brand, has seen sales fall by one-half and quality sink perhaps even more

Dear Robert Pepi Jr.:

I see you are the consultant for the new owners of Geyser Peak, once one of California’s great cheap wine brands. This is welcome news, given your family’s long tradition with sauvignon blanc, the varietal that made Geyser Peak one of California’s great cheap brands. Is it possible that you can convince the wine’s new owners to restore its $10 sauvignon blanc to greatness?

I ask this because American wine drinkers are eager for a $10 California label that offers consistency, quality, and value. Because, as we have too often noted on the blog, that’s almost impossible to find anymore. Geyser Peak was once once of those wines and a member of the $10 Hall of during the blog’s early days. In fact, the Big Guy used to joke that he knew it was summer in Texas when he started drinking Geyser sauvignon blanc.

But that hasn’t been the case for a long time. Your new bosses are at least the brand’s fifth owners since 2007, and the last owner drove sales from around 300,000 cases a year to half that. And no wonder. The last couple of times I tasted the wine it was, to be polite, crummy. Who mixes riesling with sauvignon blanc unless there is an ulterior motive?

Plus, the quotes I read from the new bosses didn’t fill me with confidence: “500,000 cases. … growth potential. … expanded sales force. … honing our focus.” Shudder – nothing about making quality wine in any of that, is there?

Earlier this year, a leading wine industry analyst said California desperately needs “sexy brands at $7 or $8 per bottle. …” Which you and the new owner have the chance to do with Gesyer Peak (and a $10 price would be fine, too). Grape prices have declined, so it will be possible to buy better quality grapes to put in the wine. The brand has a long history of quality – how more reassuring than marketing it as, “Great Geyser Peak wine is back, baby!”? And maybe you can even convince the new owner that this would be the perfect way to bring younger consumers to wine – cheap, fruit forward, and a product that tastes like wine.

As always, I am ready to help in any way I can.

Yours in quality cheap wine,

The Wine Curmudgeon

Photo: Librestock, using a Creative Commons license

TV wine ad update: Does Stella Rosa’s sweet fizzy red commercial do what Big Wine can’t?

Is this spot for Stella Rosa’s sweet fizzy red, Black Lux, more effective TV advertising than anything Big Wine has come up with? Sure seems like it

The blog regularly rants and raves about Big Wine’s pathetic efforts at TV advertising, and especially at its failure to reach younger wine consumers with epics like (shudder) the Roo.

So how did Stella Rosa, owned by a little known Los Angeles wine producer, get this ad right? Because, after all, the company isn’t a huge multi-national with a massive marketing budget and creative geniuses on the payroll.

The secret, to paraphrase the blog’s official wine marketing guru? Stella Rosa knows its audience. Watch this commercial for its Black Lux, a pricey, sweet fizzy Italian red, and you’ll want to buy the wine and make the recipe — even if you don’t like pricey, sweet fizzy Italian reds. The commercial is fun and accessible; who else has paired tomato soup and wine? And it doesn’t hurt that the spot “borrows” its overhead, cooking hands format from popular Millennial cooking shows like Tastemade.

Best yet, the ad is not about making fun of wine snobs or showing impossibly beautiful people drinking wine that they wouldn’t touch unless they were being paid to do it. Because we know how little that has worked — and why we shouldn’t be surprised that Stella Rose sells more than 2 million cases of wine a year.

Video courtesy of Stella Rosa via YouTube

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Winecast 48: 1 Wine Dude Joe Roberts and the Wine Taster’s Guide

joe roberts

Joe Roberts, 1 Wine Dude

1 Wine Dude Joe Roberts and his new book, the “Wine Tasters Guide”

Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude was of the first wine bloggers, and remains among the best-known and most successful. And why not? As he told me last week when we recorded the podcast, “If a wine doesn’t give you pleasure, what’s the point of drinking it, regardless of what I think about the wine?”

Hence his new book — and his first, the “Wine Taster’s Guide: Drink and Learn with 30 Wine Tastings ($14.99, Rockridge Press).” There is also a companion tasting journal ($10.99).

Joe’s goal? To make wine fun again by tasting it, and without the foolishness that passes for so much wine writing today. Joe is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we spend too much money on wine we may not like because we are too intimidated by the process.

We talked about how the book works, why Joe wrote it (given that he didn’t think the world needed another wine book), and how many times one checks the Amazon best-sellers page to see one’s book’s ranking. Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 15 minutes long and takes up 5 megabytes. Quality is good to very good (save for a few seconds at the beginning).

The Trump zombie wine tariff is lurking over the horizon

wine tariff

The Trump zombie tariff is lurking over the horizon, which means the price of European wine could double.

Why haven’t we been able to kill the Trump zombie wine tariff, which is bad economics and bad public policy?

July 13 update: Federal trade officials announced Friday that the U.S. has delayed imposing additional tariffs on French wine until January, as part of the dispute over the French tax on Facebook, Google, and Amazon. And there is still no word on whether the Trump Administration will impose additional tariffs on all European wine as part of the Boeing-Airbus trade dispute. So, yes, some good news — though not as good as so many have been reporting.

July 6 post: Just when it seemed safe to drink European wine without worrying that it could double in price, the Trump zombie wine tariff is lurking over the horizon.

That’s the 100 percent tariff on almost all European wine, which the Trump Administration proposed in February. The administration backed off then, raising tariffs on European airplane parts instead. Which made perfectly good sense, since the original trade dispute was about airplane parts.

But the proposal is back. Last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative proposed tariffs on nearly $3.1 billion worth of European products and that would raise the current wine tariff from 25 percent to 100 percent.

In other words, effectively doubling the price of European wine in the U.S. Some have gone as far as to call the 100 percent tariff the worst threat to the U.S. wine business – imported and domestic – since Prohibition.

None of this makes any sense, and not just because this whole thing is about airplane parts.

• The world economy is in recession. So why would any sane person consider raising taxes?

• The coronavirus. So why would any sane person consider raising taxes?

• France’s so-called digital tax on U.S. companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google has somehow become part of the dispute, though why the federal government needs to protect these giga-billion dollar behemoths is beyond me. And doesn’t President Trump hate Amazon?

The good news, if there is any, is that most of the people I talked to say the tariff proposal is likely empty bluster, more posturing from an administration that has perfected bluster. Two wine industry officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said they didn’t expect the 100 percent levy to be approved. One, who has been closely involved with negotiations, said, “My personal view is that the most likely outcome is no change” until the final World Trade Organization ruling later this year on the original aircraft parts dispute.

Having said that, this is no time for slacking off. After all, we all know how difficult it is to kill zombies. Hence, if you oppose the 100 percent tariff, you can leave a comment with the U.S. Trade Representative at this link. The comment period ends on July 26.

Image courtesy of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, using a Creative Commons license

More on the zombie wine tariff:
Trump Administration backs off 100 percent wine tariff
Welcome to Sherwood: Robin Hood takes on the wine tariffs
Panic wine buying

podcast

Winecast 47: Bay area retailer Debbie Zachareas and the new normal

Debbie Zachareas

Debbie Zachareas

Debbie Zachareas: Trading down is going on, even for people who buy $100 wine

Debbie Zachareas is a long-time San Francisco-area wine retailer; currently she helps oversee three wine stores and wine bars in the Bay Area. And of all the surprises during the coronavirus pandemic, among the most surprising has been that even people who buy $100 wine have been trading down. A $15 to $30 bottle, she says, seems to be what they’re looking for these days, what with staying at home and social distancing.

We talked about trading down, as well as what wines are popular — lighter whites instead of the heavier reds that had been in vogue, as well as imported wines instead of California wines. One exception: The incredible wines from California’s Jolie-Laide, a small but, unfortunately, hard-to-find producer.

Plus, customer service has improved during the duration — an odd, if unintended side effect during the duration that I’ve heard about from other retailers.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 13 minutes long and takes up 5 megabytes. Quality is mostly excellent (save for a few seconds at the beginning). We’re back to recording on Skype.