Three quality cheap wines readers aren’t able to buy, thanks to three-tier system failure
Sometimes, even I’m surprised at the screwed up three-tier system, which regulates booze sales in the U.S. And we know how screwed up I think it is. But three things happened over the past couple of weeks that demonstrate, with even more finality, three-tier system failure: That in the 21st century, three-tier has nothing to do with safety or law enforcement, but instead mostly prevents wine drinkers from buying even the most ordinary bottle.
• A reader in Sacramento – the capital of California, with one-half million people – couldn’t find a $10 Italian wine that I bought in Dallas. Know that the importer is one of the largest in Europe, and the distributor is the fourth-largest in the country, with $3 billion in sales. Finally, after back-and-forth emails with the importer’s brand manager (who is a certified sommelier), he found it at one store for one-third more than it cost here.
• I bought an $8 Italian red in Dallas, and it was $10 Hall of Fame quality. But, because I know about three-tier system failure, I checked on availability. The red is imported by a winery in Sonoma, and apparently mostly sold through its tasting room; it shouldn’t be in Dallas at all. So the Sacramento reader couldn’t buy a wine from a huge importer and an even bigger distributor, but I was able to buy this?
• Southern Glazers is the biggest distributor in the world, with $17 billion in sales, and it controls one-third of the U.S. market. So why does it distribute a $10 French sauvignon blanc in Texas but not in Illinois? I know this because my mom wanted to buy the wine, and I assured her it would be no problem. Because, of course, Southern Glazers. But as the sales guy at her local retailer told her in disgust, that sort of thing happens all the time.
And, of course, because it’s illegal in most states under three-tier to buy wine from an out-of-state retailer, you can’t use the Internet to buy any of these wines.
The three-tier system, as it exists today, benefits no one but Big Wine, retailers like Kroger and Walmart, and the biggest distributors. Or, as any number of small and medium-sized retailers have told me over the past couple of years: Three-tier failure in the 21st century means higher prices and less selection for wine drinkers, and we pay that price so the supply chain will be more efficient for multi-billion dollar companies. What the consumer wants is irrelevant.
Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?