Friday, October 26, 2007

We Want Wine Without Borders!

Okay people - - hunker down for awhile. She's on a rant. You've been warned.

If there was a local sit-down or picket line about this subject, I would be there. As a "child of the 60's and 70's" the closest I came to a rally was during a high school band trip to Seattle. A few of us strayed and found ourselves downtown at a Vietnam war protest (we were suppose to be checking out museums and the Space Needle). Of course, I had to get in the middle of it, but quickly found a way out of the crowd when a passer-by gave me a pamphlet on what to do in case of tear-gas and I noticed an army of police with masks standing by. I would later cringe when the news and photos of the rally appeared on the NBC news. My father never missed Huntley and Brinkley. My inner-voice would chant, as I watched the news with Dad, "Please do not recognize me in the crowd of 10,000 people." (Hmm - now that I think about this, I don't think my mother knows about this - - oh well, she might now!)

So, what is this wine shipping-foo all about? First and foremost, it is not cool to discriminate against interstate commerce - a direct violation of the Commerce Clause, Art. I, §8, cl. 3 and the Twenty-First Amendment. And the truth is that alcohol wholesale/distributors around the country are violating this act every day.

Picture this: you live in Pennsylvania and you want to purchase wines from the state of Washington. You’ve read a lot about the wonderful wines of Walla Walla, so you surf the internet and there they are - world class Walla Walla wines - all within the reach of your keyboard and credit card. How easy would it to be to finally add those wines to your wine collection. Well tough! Snap out of it! You can’t! You cannot buy any Walla Walla wines because your state has restricted what kind of wines you can and cannot purchase. If you want to purchase any wines from Walla Walla, then you are going to have to purchase them from your local store who will purchase them from their wholesale distributor. And chances are great that the wholesale distributor will not have these wines in their inventory, especially if it is an award winning wine from a small Washington State winery. Too bad - so sad - you are out of luck and you can thank your politicians for accepting the hand-outs from the local wholesale distributors. In North Carolina alone, the North Carolina Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association donated more than $85,000 to their local politicians in 2006.

Now the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, Inc. (WSWA) want you to believe that the three tiered system needs to stay in place because it is all about the safety of the children. The truth is that the WSWA wants to control wine shipments and especially wine sales on the internet because the WSWA does not make a penny from the small wineries who self-distribute (and often through the internet). In fact, the WSWA has been trying to push through legislation for years to abolish winery self-distribution. Every time I read the WSWA quote, "it’s for the children" it reminds me of something out of the mouth of pop-rocker-perv, Michael Jackson. Yeah right, and if you believe their "selfless act" - - have I got a deal for you - a case of 1787 Chateau Lafite I’ll sell you for $99.95.

When will the WSWA ever learn that their tired old debate of "protecting the children from alcohol internet sales" is losing momentum? Any under-ager can buy a liter of cheap beer from the "guy" that hangs in the alley behind the neighborhood convenience store a lot cheaper and quicker than buying a bottle of wine on the internet (for you South Park fans, check out how Cartman feels about the WSWA). How many kids do you know that will order $30 wines on the internet including at least $20 for shipping, pay for it with a credit card, and wait for 3-5 days for delivery? If I remember right back in my youth, it was all about instant gratification when it came to underage drinking. Umm - of course, I was referring to my old friends from high school days...they use to tell me about it...

Furthermore, shippers like FedEx and UPS have made it very difficult (yet easier for the wineries to stay in compliance) for anybody under 21 years of age to receive alcohol. Their policies state that all alcohol shipments must have an adult-over-21 signature before receipt of package. I recently had a FedEx driver tell me that he has known drivers who have lost their jobs for delivering wine without an adult signature. And it is against federal law to ship alcohol through the US Postal System.

Besides individual wineries using their efforts, The Specialty Wine Retailers Association is an organization working to keep the wine market without borders so that consumers can purchase and receive wine directly from any retailer in the United States. There are other organizations that work with consumer and wineries, such as Free the Grapes, a coalition whose goal is to ensure the consumer a choice of where to purchase wine.

And last but certainly not least, blogs are exercising their voices and assisting to educate their readers on retailer-to-consumer shipping issues. The Ship Compliant Blog is an online site for wineries to use and to help them stay current on interstate shipping rules. Organizations like these are truly needed, especially when the wholesale cartel have threatened consumers and wineries with jail time if they bypass the middleman. Also out there, voicing the importance of freeing the grape is REthink Wine Blog and now Wine Without Borders. Tom Wark, the tireless and fearless, of Fermentation - the Daily Wine Blog will be managing Wine Without Borders regarding wine to consumer shipping issues.

As of today, wine retailers can only ship legally into 15 states and wineries may ship into 35 depending on offsite or onsite sales (meaning if you visited the winery then you can have your wine sent to you via shipper). Doesn’t sound right, does it? We live in the United States of America. Shouldn’t the number of states that both wine retailer and winery can ship into be a total of all 50 states? Wine sales are bigger than ever and the number is sales keep growing - - meaning there are enough sales to go around for all - wineries around the nation and for the wholesale/distributors!

(And let me be very, very clear that I have nothing against the actual services of what a wholesale/distributor provides. In some areas of the country and for some alcohol related businesses the wholesaler/distributor provides a convenient service for many stores, restaurants/hotels and other retailers of alcohol. For many wineries, the wholesale distributor plays an important role in assisting them to reach specific areas and businesses that the winery may not be able to reach on their own based on their volume and manpower. But the point is - - the wineries should have a choice and not be bullied of whether or not to use the services of the wholesale/distributors. )


Unknown said...

Catie - a frictionless wine market is what we ask to allow consumers to choose what wines they like rather than be gated by antiquated laws and business practices. Great blog post and thanks for championing what is right.

Inertia - Powering the Wine Revolution

---Paul Mabray - CEO

Unknown said...

Catie - Very well said! Your comments are much appreciated. And thank you Paul for your work as well.

Together... Change will come.


Chris Milliken - PengWine

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