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The Daily Wine Blog
Updated: 1 hour 11 min ago

Money, Power, Reputation and the Napa Valley Wine Auction

May 30, 2017 - 8:44am

The most startling thing about the Napa Valley Auction, which happens this coming weekend, is the remarkable concentration of wealth it attracts. But this is what is required in order for the event to raise the remarkable sums for local charities. Still, it’s startling.

One of the best ways to witness this conspicuous monetary power is to position yourself somewhere near southern Napa on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week and observe the air traffic overhead. You’ll see a fleet of private jets landing at the Napa airport. For aviation buffs, it’s pretty cool.

Of course, the Napa Valley Auction also serves to re-cement the perception of the Valley’s wines as among the top bottlings in the world. The Napa Valley Vintners take this goal fairly seriously, as they should. In today’s world, it is still believed that value, importance, and significance is determined by the amount of money dedicated to or possessed as well as by the number, quality, and significance of the celebrities that lend their names and time to something. Money and celebrity are at the heart of cementing the Napa Valley reputation.

It has been some years since I attended the Auction. I don’t have the disposable income to contribute to the take, I don’t own a winery, nor do I rate quite enough as a communicator to be invited. But I still get to see the planes. And that’s fun.

The post Money, Power, Reputation and the Napa Valley Wine Auction appeared first on Fermentation.

What Wine Blog Readers Read

May 20, 2017 - 7:56am

It’s always a good idea that on occasion we look to see just what exactly people are reading. Looking back over the past 12 months, Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog has attracted readers to a relatively narrow set of themes. But this makes sense since I tend to write about a narrow set of themes. Still, it’s telling that the two most popular posts here over the past 12 months are consumer facing, rather than my normal trade facing missives.

In order of most frequently read over the past 12 months:

Top Ten Differences Between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley
For those interested in making a decision on which region to visit

10 Warnings for Visitors to Napa Valley
It’s not all paradise here. It’s good. But visitors might want to be prepared

The Wineries’ Betrayal of Consumers
Wineries have not always had consumers’ best interests at heart

The Coming Repeal of the Three Tier System of Wine, Beer & Spirits
My own explanation as to why the Three Tier System will be dismantled

Wild Yeast Fermentation: “There’s No Such Thing”
This post caused controversy for obvious reasons.

Lib Dib Cracks The Code of Modern Three Tier Distribution
The most recent post to crack the top ten.

The Two Wine Industries—Seperate and Distinct
We have two wine industries that need two sets of tools for selling

The Billion Dollar Wine Boondoggle
Bans on consumer access to wine is costing billions.

Are Burgundy Wine Growers Cheating Terroir
If you hinder the climate from doing what it wants to do, are you messing with terroir?

Help Fight…For the Love of Wine
A plea.



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Wine Wholesalers Announced that YOU Are the Enemy

May 18, 2017 - 12:07pm


There is a simple way of determining in the wine industry and any other industry or situations, who your opponents are: Line up potential opponents and ask them what they oppose. It’s direct, simple and lacks provocation.

Recently, the only national association of wine and spirit wholesalers provided a list of those things they oppose, making it a simple chore to determine if wine and spirit wholesalers are your opponents/enemy.

At the recently concluded Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America convention, the organization’s CEO, Craig Wolf, presented a handy little list of those things that “challenge” wholesalers. See if you or your business or your sector of the alcohol beverage industry is on that list.

“The middle tier is facing greater challenges today than we ever have before.Big retailers are leading a new wave of litigation designed to break down prohibitions on interstate shipping of alcohol to consumers. Amazon and other large retailers are looking to change the rule in order to buy and sell products outside the three-tier system and dominate the marketplace to the detriment of independent retailers of beverage alcohol. RETAILERS—CHECK!!

“Brewpubs, craft distilleries, small wineries and now even big breweries are seeking expanded retail sales and self-distribution rights. Large distilled spirit suppliers, in the interests of equal treatment of beer, wine and spirits, and a number of small craft distillers, now are contemplating seeking direct consumer sales of their products.” CRAFT BREWERS, CRAFT DISTILLERIES, SMALL WINERIES, LARGE BREWERS, LARGE DISTILLERS—CHECK!!

“Consumers are increasingly desiring the convenience of online ordering and rapid home delivery, and believe the tiered system of independent retailers, wholesalers and suppliers and other important regulatory controls are archaic and anachronistic. And they also believe that legitimate and time-tested regulations are impediments to the on-demand economy and need to be reconsidered.” CONSUMERS—CHECK!!

“There is today a coordinated effort at almost every level to dismantle a regulatory structure that is without question the safest, most accountable, efficient and consumer-friendly and profitable system for the distribution of beverage alcohol in the world today.” EVERYONE AT EVERY LEVEL OF THE INDUSTRY — CHECK!!

It must be tough when the entire alcohol beverage industry, including the end-user of the product, is arrayed against you, but that appears to be what the wine and spirit wholesalers see. On the other hand, you have to ask yourself why your interests are aligned against everyone else in your industry. Is it possible that your interests are so singular and so detrimental to the rest of the alcohol beverage industry that you are the heart of the problem?

No one doubts the value of box movers. Wine, beer, and spirits are heavy and you need brute strength in this industry. But if you look closely at what the wholesalers believe they are fighting against it is in almost every case the following: greater consumer access to products and the legally mandated use of wholesalers. Let me put this another way, what the wholesalers are defending is legally instituted protectionism and bans on consumers accessing the products they want.

Given this, it’s sort of surprising the list of “challenges” the wholesalers believe they face isn’t substantially larger.

The post Wine Wholesalers Announced that YOU Are the Enemy appeared first on Fermentation.

SPIRITED: The Right Match for the Evolution of the Craft Revolution

May 15, 2017 - 3:39pm

Today, the silos that once kept the beer, wine, spirits and cider categories separate entities have been smashed to pieces. Not only do we see wineries making cider, brewers making cider, wineries making spirits and spirit producers making beer, we see them all borrowing from one another marketing concepts and branding ideas. And this is not just limited to the artisan or craft alcohol producers. As larger companies pick off craft producers of wine, beer, spirits, and cider, they too are employing “cross-platform” tools for selling and marketing.

Now, a new magazine has emerged that matches this new zeitgeist: Spirited.

Despite the name that implies a focus on spirits, Spirited is a hybrid trade/consumer print publication from Sonoma Media Investments in Sonoma County, California that is effectively communicating the cutting edge ideas that animate the craft alcohol world. Their motto, “The Essence of Craft”, at first seems cut off. But in fact, the tagline stops exactly where it should.

Now in its second issue, Spirited was founded by Debra Del Fiorentino and Ethan Simon, two veterans of the beverage industry. Brought in to edit the new business/consumer hybrid is Alexandra Russell, formerly the managing editor of North Bay Biz, a Bay Area business magazine that pays particular attention to the beverage industry.

The idea of bringing all craft beverage business coverage together in one magazine isn’t common, but it’s the right idea for these times. As Simon said to me, the idea was to cover all aspects of all products that occupy the three tier system. This is another way of saying that the producers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers of alcohol and their suppliers all swim in the same pond these days and it’s a pond that blends many beverages and many interests. And he is right.

Consider what Russell writes in her Editor’s column in Issue Two of Spirited:

“This issue, we turn our attention to marketing and the many forms it can take, from social media, mobile devices, and the sought-after millennial demographic and what it takes to introduce a new product to market and how packaging can influence a consumer.

It’s not about wine. It’s not about beer. It’s not about spirits. It’s not about cider. It’s about the ideas and issues and challenges that are faced equally by producers of craft beverages.

I also want to draw the readers attention to the fact that Spirited is published in print form. Yes, you remember that thing. You can get some of the content at www.spiritedbiz.com, but the stuffing is in the print publication. They didn’t have to go the print route. They could have forgone the ink and binding and stayed with ones and zeros. But as the publishers understand and as so many have mentioned to me recently, there is something very comforting and necessary with print and the publishers of Spirited are supporting that notion.

I get excited when I see a new, professionally produced magazine focusing on my industry. For the past few years, we’ve seen lots of publications that covered wine fall away, replaced by blogs, amateurs, Thrillist-like coverage of beverages, or with no replacement at all. Now there is Spirited to step into the space and with an attitude and focus that perfectly matches the evolution of the American craft beverage revolution. It’s good news for everyone who cares about the industry and cares for good coverage of the world of craft beer, spirits, wine and cider.

The post SPIRITED: The Right Match for the Evolution of the Craft Revolution appeared first on Fermentation.

Marijuana’s Impact on Wine Sale — Bad or Terrible?

April 20, 2017 - 9:57am

If you make a living in the wine industry, how ought you feel about this headline:

“A new study from OutCo and Monocle Research shows 51% of millennials in California will replace alcohol with marijuana.”

Further down in the story that ran in the form of a press release we get this nugget:

“Millennials will be more open to diversity in their consumption of recreational substances than older generations, with more than 50% of them substituting cannabis for alcohol altogether. The study further shows that one in five Generation Xers will be substituting marijuana for alcohol, as will 8% of baby boomers.”

Did you catch the key word? “Altogether”. The study finds that 50% of California Millennials will substitute cannabis for alcohol.  Completely. Not using the two together. Not a little of this and a little of that. Non-use of alcohol. Cannabis instead.

What of the results of this survey and poll are off by 100% and instead of 50% of Millennials discarding alcohol completely for cannabis, but rather 25% of Millennials completely discarding all use of alcohol and instead only using cannabis. Wouldn’t that alone, if you worked in the wine industry, concerning you?

I’ve heard very little concern spoken in public from members of the wine industry about how marijuana legalization will impact alcohol sales. Instead, all I’ve heard is people poo-pooing the impact and suggesting a coming synergy between the two industries.

In a recent NY Times article written by the Times Wine Editor Eric Asimov, we have this view of the situation from renowned winegrower and winemaker Phil Cotturi:

“As for competition, Mr. Coturri said he had not experienced it, except possibly in the hiring of seasonal workers for harvests….

“ ‘I see marijuana growing as something underground that is coming to the forefront,” he said. “It’s almost a companion piece. I don’t see competition with the wine industry at all.’”

A little earlier in the same article, we get this:

” The fine wine industry, however, has not panicked. Despite occasional efforts to pit wine and weed against each other, many in the wine business exude an air of mellow acceptance that the two substances can coexist in harmony.

“ ‘People are trying to say there is a threat, but I really haven’t talked to any wine industry person yet who actually sees it that way,’ said Tina Caputo, a freelance wine and food writer, who in August will be a moderator at the first Wine & Weed Symposium. The event, a wine industry initiative, will explore possible business opportunities in California, which legalized recreational marijuana use in November.”

What if Tina is wrong? What if Phil is wrong? What if the study showing Millennials giving up alcohol in huge numbers for marijuana is right?

I’m one of those who believe and who has said for many years that there can’t be any question about whether marijuana legalization will most certainly impact alcohol sales, including wine. The reason I know it will is because, despite the fact that in the wine industry we don’t talk about it much, wine is used by a number of drinkers as a means of getting high first and foremost. Now, wine also has the benefit of often tasting really, really good. But for a lot of people, particularly those drinking in the $5-$15 per bottle range, wine is a means of altering their consciousness. And this is exactly the primary reason for using cannabis.

Why wouldn’t there be substitution.

And this is also why you are seeing a very heaving PR effort by those in the cannabis industry to push the meme, “Cannabis is safer and healthier than alcohol“. Convince those drinking wine for the high that it’s safer and healthier to take a bong hit, then combine it with the fact that the high is likely cheaper and it’s pretty clear that you’ll see a good size move to cannabis.

In the survey that led to the conclusion that 50% of Millennials will move to Cannabis, the reasons for that move were described this way:

“In regards to safety, many expressed the fear of making poor decisions when consuming alcohol, which included driving over the legal limit. Cost also came into play, with many stating that their overall spend on alcohol outstrips that of

“Cost also came into play, with many stating that their overall spend on alcohol outstrips that of high quality cannabis.

“Finally, health was stated as a factor when substituting cannabis for alcohol. Participants shared that the effects of a hangover from alcohol lasted the entire next day, while high volumes of cannabis usage had no noticeable lasting effects; thereby making them feel healthier and more active.”

So, it seems the question for the alcohol industry (and wine) is what can be done to thwart the impact of marijuana legalization on alcohol beverage sales? The answer is nothing. It’s going to happen. But is there anything that mitigates the impact?

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating the wine industry undertake any of the following options for mitigating the impact of Marijuana sales on wine sales. I’m only suggesting that they are practical options.

-Institute a public and media relations campaign highlighting the dangers of using cannabis, highlighting that cannabis is used primarily to get high (unlike wine), and highlighting the negative health impacts of using cannabis.

-Take an aggressive lobbying approach to assure that regulations of the sale and distribution of cannabis are in no way laxer or easier to navigate than alcohol sales and distribution.

-Support local initiatives to keep cannabis sales out of local jurisdictions.

-Wine producers, retailers, and wholesalers can up their game of communicating the really superior experience, heritage and culture of wine over cannabis.

-Support federal efforts to stop state-based cannabis legalization.

These are not the only steps that can be taken to protect the alcohol industry in the face of cannabis legalization. Nor would most of them be effective due in large part to the required embrace of hypocrisy they require from the alcohol industry. But they are options.

I think anyone in the wine industry who denies this industry will be financially impacted by cannabis legalization has their head in the sand. I think it’s irresponsible for anyone in the industry to deny it. I think in five years the upward wine consumption trendline we’ve watch for decades will be reversed. I think low-end wines will be hit hardest. I think wine-growing regions better get aggressive in lobbying for relaxed local and state regulations on hospitality and tourism options.

The post Marijuana’s Impact on Wine Sale — Bad or Terrible? appeared first on Fermentation.

Women, Wine and Pay—Getting to the Bottom of the Issue

April 19, 2017 - 9:33am

Why are women paid less than men? Are women in the wine industry paid less than men when they have similar positions and the same amount of experience?

Wine Women, an organization with the mission of helping promote the careers of women in wine, are embarking on an effort to look at these questions, beginning with a survey of women in the wine industry that looks at their pay.


I’m pretty sure I know what kind of information their findings will yield. That women are generally paid less than men shouldn’t be a surprise. But why is this?

Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist who looks closely at issue of the pay gap between men and women suggests that the primary reason for the gap is women’s responsibilities outside of work, including caring or elderly family members and children. Goldin notes:

“Women aren’t choosing to make less. Instead, they’re buying the flexibility to handle responsibilities outside of work.”

What will be most interesting when looking at the results of the Wine Women survey is how large or small the gender pay gap is for different positions in the wine industry. Is the gap different for those working in management, winemaking, marketing?

There is one question not included in the survey that I think should be: “Do you have children under 18 living in the home”? Based on everything I’ve read, child rearing responsibility plays an important role in determining the level of pay a woman is likely to achieve.

In any case, this is an important survey and if you are a woman working in the wine industry, I urge you to take it.


The post Women, Wine and Pay—Getting to the Bottom of the Issue appeared first on Fermentation.

Are Burgundy Wine Growers Cheating Terroir?

April 17, 2017 - 12:53pm

It’s being reported by the London Telegraph that the entire Burgundy wine region is set to be protected by a ” ‘hailstone shield’ to kill destructive storms that have blighted the famed wine growing region in recent years.”

Here’s what I’m wondering: Is this “Hailstone Shield” altering the terroir of Burgundy, and if it is, what does this say about the longstanding commitment in Burgundy to its unique terroir and the unique wines it is said to produce?

The first part of that question is clearly rhetorical as there is no question that the “Hailstone Shield” is altering the effect of the very unique Burgundy terroir. It raises the question if the Burgundians could use technology to increase their average temperature by a degree or two, would they? I suspect there would be a number of growers that would jump on the opportunity.

It shouldn’t be controversial to suggest that vintners around the globe love the idea of “terroir” just up until the moment a terroir does not positively impact the quality of the grapes. And this is clearly the case in Burgundy and the coming “Hailstone Shield”.

Thiebault Huber is the president of the Volnay Wine Union and also happens to be the owner of  biodynamically farmed vineyards in Volnay, Pommard and Meursault. He notes that after having lost “massive amounts” of money as a result of the 2012 hail storms, he could not “just sit here arms crossed waiting for the hail to rain down and imperil our crops.”

M. Huber also notes that as a biodynamic farmer, “There is no way I would use this technique if I thought it harmful.”

Though I don’t know, I rather doubt that there are any requirements within the Demeter Biodynamic certification process that prohibit the climate by installing a “network of 125 ground generators that cause tiny particles of silver iodide to rise to the clouds above, where they stop the formation of hailstones.”

However, I wonder if there should be.


The post Are Burgundy Wine Growers Cheating Terroir? appeared first on Fermentation.

A New (Modern) Framework for Regulating Alcohol

April 12, 2017 - 6:25am

The American system of alcohol regulations is not merely broken, it has become a parody of the idea of control.

What once was supposed to be a post-Prohibition system of regulations to assure the country did not fall back into a free-for-all alcohol market has morphed over the years into a chaotic collection of regulations and laws based on the what the highest bidder wants, on the principle of rent-seeking by the most powerful and politically connected entities in the market and a complicated framework of laws used and amended primarily to attract or maintain the flow of campaign contributions.

One of the best examples of this are the many gatherings or regulators and members of the trade that happen at conventions and symposium throughout the year. The very serious agendas at these gatherings bring together state regulators, members of the industry, association directors and lawmakers.

What’s fascinating, however, is that at these gatherings nearly every panel or seminar is based on the notion of how to apply current law and regulations to a changing economic reality. Almost never is the focus, how should the law and regulations change to accommodate the changing economic and technological reality. It’s a gross disservice to the industry and a pretty pointed indication that the people who produce these conclaves are more concerned with how to make the system work for them than how the regulatory system can work for people of the states they regulate.

And so it begs the question, what principles should govern an early 21st-century alcohol regulatory system? What philosophies should drive laws that attempt to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol nearly 100 years after Prohibition? In what way has technology and new consumer demand made obsolete the principles that drove the creation of the alcohol regulatory system that was created in the 1930s and largely remains in place today?

Like the post-Prohibition efforts to create a new regulatory paradigm for alcohol, a 21st-century effort to create a framework for alcohol regulation must take into account the failures of the current system. But in addition, that new framework ought to account for modern technologies and their current developmental trajectories, consumer expectations, and the inherent danger to person and community of abuse of alcohol.

Given this, I’d argue that any new regulatory system is best that has the following principles as its foundation:

-Encourage Moderate, Safe Consumption 
-Encourage Competitiveness 
-Generate Revenue
-Encourage Innovation

Built upon these basic principles for alcohol regulations we must have a more detailed set of regulatory conventions that naturally follow from the above principles.

-Strong regulations and laws that deter and punish over consumption

-Producers’ choose their path to market without any regulatory or legal mandates determining that path

-A consumer-centered marketplace requires that intrastate and interstate barriers to market should be avoided.

-Laws and regulations governing the relationship between different actors (producers, wholesalers, retailers) within the industry always avoid dictating terms and length of the contract.

-Strict and simply regulations ought to govern the collection and remittance of taxes 

Clearly, the above set of principles and conventions are designed to avoid protectionist laws, regulations that pick winners, innovation-thwarting legal codes, and today’s anti-consumer consequences of long-discredited regulatory strategies motivated by rent-seeking strategies. They are a reaction to the failures of a present day regulatory system created to manage a society and technology that long ago vanished.

I’m not sure what else a newly designed system of alcohol regulation could be but this. While we can see the short-term trajectory of a society, the marketplace, and technology, we cannot see their long-term development. This was the case too with policymakers to set about to re-regulate alcohol in the 1930s after Prohibition ended.

While some states have recently undertaken a complete review of the laws and regulations governing the sale and distribution of alcohol, it is entirely unlikely that they will result in any truly significant reform. What’s more likely is that the current regulatory system for alcohol will be changed piecemeal and incrementally as one element or another of the old system becomes so burdensome and out-of-date and stifling of commerce and innovation that a change is forced upon policymakers.

The post A New (Modern) Framework for Regulating Alcohol appeared first on Fermentation.

It’s Hard To Be A Relativist When It Comes to Wine & Cat Juice

April 9, 2017 - 8:20pm

How hard to you have to love your pet and how jacked up on cash do you have to be to spend $12.00 on a small bottle of “Wine for Pets”?

I’m thinking a little too much, in both cases.

Yet, I read that on the classic television hit “Shark Tank” Kevin O’Leary paid $100,000 to be a 20% owner in Apollo Peak, a wine-for-pets company. According to CNBC:

“The wines — with clever names like MosCATo, Pinot MEOW and CharDOGnay — have no alcohol or any grape juice. They are brewed with natural herbs like chamomile. The red drinks have beet juice for color. The wines for cats contain catnip, which makes them extra social, explained Zavala.”

Louis B. Shrimperton III, our faithful Italian Greyhound, is apparently unloved and food poor, given that she is fed the “Buy Three Get a Fourth Free” cans from Petco.

Of course, here’s where it gets tricky. For years I’ve scoffed at those people who belittled others for paying more than $10.00 a bottle for wine. I’ve explained that value is in the eye of the beholder and taking a strident stance against $25.00 bottles of wine demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of human nature. So…who am I to belittle those willing to spend $12.00 per small bottle of beet juice and chamomile for cats?

Still, I can’t get the image out of my mind? The eccentric rich dude living all alone with six cats for companions buying the stuff by the case so that he doesn’t have to drink alone and serving it in beautiful crystal saucers around 5:00 pm every evening. The saucers are poured, a Riedel glass is raised, a toast ensues and nobody else is the wiser.

OK. I get it. We all have our vices and our little indulgences. Trying to figure out why someone would serve expensive, wine-wannabe veggie-juice to their cat is as useless as trying to figure out why someone would spend $100 on a bottle of pressed grapes. I get it. I get it. I get it.


The post It’s Hard To Be A Relativist When It Comes to Wine & Cat Juice appeared first on Fermentation.

Media Relations and the Frustrated Wine Writer

April 4, 2017 - 2:51pm

There are certain skills and a certain set of principles involved in media relations, be it within the wine industry or any other industry where a company has a story to tell the media.

I want to demonstrate an example of a failure of both the skill and principles using an email pitch that was sent to me yesterday.

“Dear Tom

I recently started a wine import company focusing on terroir – driven wines. Getting it off the ground takes a lot of work even with a really good portfolio. We would benefit greatly from press coverage of our new company. I’m hoping you will consider writing a story at Ferment (sic).



No doubt this new import company could use some press coverage. In fact, positive press coverage that explores a company’s unique contribution to an industry or region, for example, will yield exposure for the company and its products/services that can then be further exploited via social media and with partners. Done right media relations works and works really well.

But as I said, there are skills involved and some principles that need to be adhered to. Conscientious sales people will recognize these skills and principles:

Be a good writer. Not great. Good will do.

-Spell things correctly.

-Always check to make sure you have names of people and publications correct.

-Recognize the difference between a good story and a run-of-the-mill tale.

-Research the media person’s writing before pitching so that you know whether or not there is any chance at all they will be open to the story idea you are bringing them.

-Whether calling or emailing them, keep your story idea pitch short, to the point, compelling and in line with the kind of stories and articles they tend to write.

-Be willing to take “no” for an answer and move on.

-If the story you are pitching can easily be applied to another company in the same industry, then stop what you are doing and start over considering what makes the company, service or product unique.

-Be flexible. If you are asking a writer or journalist to meet you or with your client, it’s going to be on their schedule.

-Keep notes on who you’ve reached out to and when. It’s easy to forget you did so and stupidly repeat the pitch. Plus, going over notes and outcomes will a good idea of which story ideas work and which don’t.

-Always have background material ready to send, but don’t send it with the story pitch if reaching out via email. If they ask for information, send it. 

-Never lie. Ever. 

-Always tell the truth.

The person who contacted me violated 6 of the items noted above. That’s not to say there isn’t a really interesting story embedded in this new company. I just have no idea what it is and have no good reason to investigate.

Another thing to keep in mind is this because it will make it easier to start reaching out to media: Writers and editors and journalists GET what you are doing and why. They do the very same thing all the time. They pitch stories to editors that they want to write and they have to adhere to the same rules, principles, and skills I’ve noted above. It’s one of the reasons you often see publicists and writers migrating back and forth through the same door throughout their careers.

Use media relations as part of your marketing. If it’s done right, it will produce a healthy ROI. But if it’s done wrong, you may be the inspiration for a blog post by a frustrated wine blogger.

The post Media Relations and the Frustrated Wine Writer appeared first on Fermentation.

What is Wine Freedom?

March 31, 2017 - 12:34pm

What is Wine Freedom?

It is the principle that a free people ought to be free to procure the wine they want from any legal source willing to sell it to them.

It’s a simple idea. And yet, the idea is opposed by many in, of all places, the wine industry. In fact, the idea that there needed to be something called WineFreedom.org should be offensive to anyone who believes it is offensive to restrict free trade, free commerce, and competition for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a small cabal of cynical protectionists masquerading as protectors of the public good.

WineFreedom.org was created by the National Association of Wine Retailers for the purposes of giving wine consumers access to information on laws and legislation that impact their ability to procure the wines they want. The new site gives consumers in states where legislation impacting their ability to procure wines is being debated. Currently those states include two of the largest states in the Union where cynics have banned shipments of wine from out-of-state wine stores and Internet wine retailers: New York and Texas.

Wineries and clients of wineries that sell direct to the consumer will recognize the model used by WineFreedom.org. Free the Grapes has been very successful in providing winery customers with easy access to political action. But Free the Grapes and its sponsors haven’t shown any interest in freeing up the grapes where retailer to consumer shipping is concerned. And this is the new battle front in the consumer direct shipping wars.

Currently there are three lawsuits in three states challenging discriminatory laws impacting consumers’ ability to purchase wine from out-of-state wine stores and Internet retailer. In addition, four bills were introduced into four states this year legalizing retailer to consumer wine shipping where it is currently not explicitly legal. And more bills are likely on the way.

It’s difficult to say on what timetable freedom will come to the consumer and the wine market. What we do know however is that it won’t come without the involvement of consumers. Hence, WineFreedom.org.

At the new wine lover-facing website consumers can

• Read about Legislation
• Following links to deep background on the bills
• Find access to petitions supporting the bills
• Sign up to receive alerts when there is movement on the bill
• Quickly and easily send emails to key lawmakers

Whether there is legislation in your state, I’ll urge you to sign up for news alerts so that you can receive information when there is news about new legislation in your state or about lawsuits that impact your ability to access the wine you want.

The effort to combat archaic liquor laws supported only by special interests that benefit from them but at the same time harm consumers is one that will continue for years to come. But those laws days are numbered. Bans on shipping, absurd “tied-house” laws, Franchise laws, blue laws and the rest of the anti-consumer laws on the books will fall eventually. The three-tier system will be eventually be dismantled and producers, retailers and consumers will be free to interact with each other in the way they choose.

But it won’t happen without consumers’ willingness to take action. The good news is that just a little bit of action by a lot of active consumers goes a very long way. Hence:


Tom Wark is Executive Director of the National Association of Wine Retailers

The post What is Wine Freedom? appeared first on Fermentation.

LibDib Cracks the Code of Modern Three Tier Alcohol Distribution

March 22, 2017 - 12:00pm

The most shocking thing about the new Liberation Distribution (LibDib) wholesale platform is that the idea to automate distribution of alcohol on a platform that invites everyone onboard apparently escaped the great minds occupying the middle tier.

I jest. Of course American wholesalers didn’t think of the most obvious and efficient way to mitigate the distribution bottleneck for artisan wineries, brewers, cideries, and distillers. They aren’t in the business of efficient or obvious. No, it took someone who experienced first hand the absurd consequences of wholesale distribution and antiquated three-tier law to come up with a beautiful and elegant solution to bringing the growing set of artisan “Makers” to market.

Cheryl Murphy Durzy is the founder of Liberation Distribution. Having confronted the frustration of dealing with wholesalers who either blocked the way to market for all but the largest brands or happily let producers’ products waste away in a warehouse, Durzy decided she could do it better. And she did.

Liberation Distribution is simple. Producers sign up and onboard their products. LibDib presents its book online.  Accounts buy online and the producer delivers. LibDib takes a cut. But more important, LibDib is an equal opportunity wholesaler:

“Any ‘Maker’ who wants to distribute their products to states on the LibDib system is welcome to sign up, set their price, and wholesale. Anyone…All brands deserve a route to market”

Consider the last part of that quote: “All brands deserve a route to market.” Not “all brands deserve to succeed.” Not “all brands deserve a built in customer base.” Simply, “all brands deserve a route to market.” And it’s true. But consider that under the strict three tier system championed by Durzy’s wholesaler competitors for decades, the rule has been that no brand has the right to a route to market, let alone deserve it. Instead, the big wholesalers have operated under the mantra that only wholesalers shall determine which brands have a route to market.

LibDib is currently licensed as a wholesaler in New York and California with expansion to Illinois and other states likely in the near future.

The most important thing about LibDib is that it finally gives wineries, brewers and distillers an efficient, inexpensive and nearly risk-free way of offering their products to some of the most prestigious and important restaurants and retailers in the American marketplace. Durzy has pledged that she’ll never enforce a Franchise statute. That alone is reason for small, artisan producers to give the LibDib system a try.

Among the most impressive elements of LibDib is the elegance of the platform. Simple to use for producers and simple to navigate for accounts. The challenge, of course, is that a small, artisan distiller in Kansas using the LibDib system to offer wines at wholesale in California won’t have access to a large group of sales people on the street. But let’s face it, the big wholesalers who control most markets don’t use their sales people to market small producers anyway. And the flipside is that restaurants and retailers can order as little as a bottle or two if they just want to try it. There are no minimum purchases at LibDib.

It won’t take long for the copycats to come out of the woodwork, this idea is so brilliantly suited for today’s market of too many producers of alcohol, too few wholesalers, and too antiquated and stodgy regulations. But LibDib has a nice lead in what will be a new category of wholesalers. Durzy has spent lavishly on her platform, making it a seamless experience for producers and buyers.

But again, I have to go back to the traditional, bulky, slow moving wholesalers. How is it they didn’t start doing this a decade ago when the complaints about small producers having no path to market through the consolidating middlemen were in full swing? I’ll tell you how. It is the most obvious non-outcome of a system of distribution that for decades has been built and rebuilt around deep pocket middlemen with no interest in innovation or serving anyone but themselves despite their privileged and cozy mandated status.

It’s gonna cost them millions, if not billions down the road.

In the mean time, LibDib should become a chosen outlet for the ambitious artisan producers that want to continue to grow. There are now over 15,000 wineries, distillers, and brewers in the United States. The vast majority are small and a good many of those would love a chance to break into wholesale markets on at least a limited basis. Now they have a path.

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Drinking and Driving—The Path to Wealth

March 21, 2017 - 1:52pm

Want to increase the size of your bank account? Consider drinking and driving.

According to the annual Wealth Report:

“Investment grade wine finally knocked classic cars off the winner’s podium in the 2016 Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII). The Knight Frank Fine Wine Icons Index, compiled for us by Wine Owners, recorded blistering growth of 24% in 2016, compared with a relatively lacklustre 9% increase in the value of the HAGI Top Index, which tracks the performance of the world’s most desirable classic cars.

“Wine’s stellar performance was driven by exceptionally strong growth in key areas across the world and in particular the resurgence of the top Bordeaux chateaux, which form the backbone of most investment cellars, says Nick Martin of Wine Owners.

“In 2015 we saw growth of around 8% for the whole of the Bordeaux region, off the back of steep declines in 2012 to 2014 following the bursting of the Chinese-induced Bordeaux bubble in late 2011.

“But 2016 was completely different. The top Bordeaux blue chips drove the entire market, growing 9% to the end of June. Brexit turbo-charged the market due to the devaluation of sterling, feeding more positive sentiment into a market that had already been gathering significant momentum. The first growths rose a further 18% between June and November 2016, resulting in an annualised performance of over 30%.”

Collectible cars came in second place with a respectable 9% return on investment in 2016. However, this comes after a 151% increase in value in classic cars over the past five years.

Real Estate is back to pre-recession levels. The wine industry, particularly the upper end, is jumping. Interest rates are rising. On the one hand this all looks like a humming economy. On the other hand, after living through the Great Recession and looking at the continued increase in wealth and income inequality (The top 10% richest families in the U.S. control 76% of the nation’s total wealth. The bottom 50% of the nation controls 1% of the nation’s wealth), it gives one pause.

As would the recent headline over at Meininger’s Wine Business International: Is the U.S. Wine Boom Over?

What if prices remain flat, since more and more wines will be chasing the same number of wine drinkers? And what if consolidation among retailers, distributors and producers make it more difficult for all but the biggest producers to make an impact on those overwhelmed consumers?

Wonder no more

The slowdown in US consumption could well be underway, having started during the recession. And if no one can say for certain if or when the rest of this scenario will occur, several wine industry analysts who have parsed the numbers, as well as an influential study, say it’s more likely than not.

I’m not an economist. I’m not much of an investor. Still….

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Natural Wine — Late To the Party

March 19, 2017 - 8:09pm

In today’s New York Times Sunday Review section writer Bianca Bosker pens a very coherent defense of processed wine. In doing so, however, she notes the thing that has always confused me about Natural Wine champions.

Bosker observes that adherents of the “Natural Wine” movement make a point of insisting that the wines they produce are nothing like and are an alternative to the “industrialized, big brand, manufactured, nothing-but-alcoholic-grape-juice wines”—as the Naturalistas have deemed big brand wine.

It has always been a bashfest of the “industrial” or “commercial” wines that natural wine champions rail against. They have always offered up their products as an alternative to these “chemical-laden” wines.

Isn’t this about the lowest bar natural wine could possible set for itself. Aren’t they playing limbo with the bar on the top rung? Did they not notice that 95% of the wineries in the world had already rejected the idea of making processed wine well before they ever got into the game? Pretty soon the natural wine folks will be telling us that we ought to consider using the World Wide Web to communicate with younger wine drinkers.


This myopic view of the wine world has always been and continues to be the ideological Achilles heel of the natural wine world. While introducing no ideas, no new production techniques, and no innovation to the marketplace, they insist their opposition to big brand wines is some sort of revolution. It’s not. It’s the low road and the safe path.

Ironically, it’s Bosker’s argument and philosophy laid out in the article that is something new: a defense of processed, cheap wine that will appeal to the masses and just might capture a few of those mass-market, sweet wine drinkers into the ranks of the oenophiles.

As for the natural wine drinkers, I say welcome to the party. It’s nice to know that you’ve discovered that artisan wine is very good. Unfortunately, you’re late the party. We’ve eaten all the food. And the only wine left is this biodynamically farmed, brett-laden bottle that is still nearly full. 

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How To Speak the Arcane Language of Booze

March 12, 2017 - 12:32pm

Having lived in a protective bubble for so many decades, booze distributors have developed a language all their own that can be difficult for non-distributors to understand. The language of the beer distributor is particularly challenging. Theirs is an opaque patois born of years of being isolated from the real world.

Recently, a leader of the beer distributor peoples attempted to offer an explanation of the changing world of beer. Unfortunately, his Beerish got in the way of effectively communicating to all those outside the borders of the beer bubble. I’m happy to translate.

“When independent retailers and local beer distributors are united on building brands, delivering consumer choice or advocating before the state legislature, great things happen.”
Translation: You retailers may think your interests are different from distributors, but in reality the only thing that matters is you do as we say

“Beer distributors take immense pride in their ability to help small brewers get established, grow these craft brands and celebrate in their partners’ successes.”
Translation: Well, not ALL small brewers. Just those that that agree “to celebrate their partners’ successes” means “do as we say, give us most of your profit and shut the hell up”.

“But as more and more brewery-owned retailers are established, and as breweries’ direct-to-consumer sales continue to grow, the competitive landscape is being upended. In some states, brewers are aggressively expanding their retail privileges from their brewery location to stand-alone, non-brewery taprooms or tasting rooms. And these modern-day “tied houses” are often exclusive outlets, selling only alcohol products that they own.”
Translation: What the fuck is going on here? Brewers selling their own beer? Shit!!! That doesn’t help us.

“These taprooms are increasingly serving as competitors to licensed, independent retailers.”
Translation: Competition!  Ahhhhhhh!  No. We were promised no competition.

“So is there anything wrong with this? That is up to policymakers in state capitols.”
Translation: Ha ha ha! Oh, God. Hee hee. Uh huh! Policymak…..Ha Ha. Where’s our wallet???

“But imagine if this rationale were applied by global alcohol giants like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Diageo or Gallo? Competition would slow as these giants grew market power at the expense of brand building beer bars.
Translation: There’s your boogyman. Use him well. Pretend this is a real threat. We’ll have your back with these big boys. They understand the game. Just be sincere when you drag this strawman out of the closet.

“The open system of independent distribution and retail beer sales has been an unparalleled success, providing record choice to U.S. consumers and access to market for all brewers. Is that now all at risk?”
Translation: Always, always answer “yes” to this rhetorical question. And don’t ever, ever remind anyone that the “open system” is actually a closed system…and you’ll be ok. Remember: RISK!!

“The blurring of the lines between who is a brewer and who is a retailer presents both a business and political challenge for beer distributors and independent retailers.”
Translation: Competition=bad. Protection from competition=Good

“The common agreement that the three-tier system is the best path to the consumer is being challenged. Suppliers see money in bypassing the distribution and retailer tier, despite the long-term implications”
Translation: (See above)

“As independent retailers face this issue, they must be bold in telling their story.”
Translation: Lie!

“The stakes are high, and independent retailers need to act to support the open and independent distribution system that serves consumers so well.”
Translation: Don’t fuck with us.

As you can see, it’s a complicated language beer distributors speak. But, with a little effort and an appreciation of the bubble in which this language was developed, you too can decipher the meaning of DistributorSpeak.



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Women and Winemaking: The Problematic Report

March 8, 2017 - 10:27am

Far be it for me to be they guy who sticks his thumb in the pie on International Women’s Day, but…Really:

“women winemakers’ detailed approach and nuanced use of language could help tasters pick up on more subtle flavors. “Women tend to make cleaner wines, and even though it sounds like a generalization, they tend to have detail in tasting notes,”


“According to Hopkins, who works with both male and female winemakers, men tend to critique wines using adjectives that focus on structure and power, while ‘women tend to get excited about the suppleness of the tannins, the mouthfeel, the finesse of the notes.’ ”

The article from which I quote is entitled, “These Women Winemakers are  Changing the Way We Drink”. Well, they aren’t, despite the fact of profiling one particularly great winemaker, Kathleen Inman.

It all begs the question, is it necessary to give oneself almost completely over to hyperbole in order to write about the status of women in the wine business. I’m almost positive the answer is, “no”.

If you wanted to write an article about women’s contribution to American winemaking you could do so with reference to the past and present and to the great number of women who have led wineries, pioneered their gender’s work in the industry, and not the great wines and wineries they have and do lead.

We could write about female winemakers, executives and winery owners such as  Milla Handley,Delia Viader,  Michaela Rodeno, Mia Klein, Zelma Long, Carol Shelton, Mary Ann Graf, Helen Turley, Eileen Crane, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Lane Tanner, Carole Meredith, Cathy Corison, Celia Welch, Margo Van Staaveren, Helen Keplinger, Christina Benz, Dawnine Dyer, Gina Gallo, Jill Davis, Tracey Reichow, Margaret Davenport, Marimar Torres, Pam Starr.

How hard would it be to write about the accomplishments of women by referencing and profiling the women noted above as well as the many other not mentioned?

Is it necessary instead to falsely suggest some sea change in winemaking attributed to women?

Is it necessary to falsely suggest women have some native insight into “suppleness” that men don’t possess?

Is it necessary to falsely suggest women make “cleaner” wines than men?

Is it necessary to falsely say that women produce more detailed tasting notes?

Why not instead chronicle the huge contribution to the current field of winemaking made by the women mentioned above as well as many others?


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The Elemental Magic of Winemaking Is Different Than Baby Making

March 3, 2017 - 11:00am

Clarke’s Third Law States: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I take a certain comfort in the fact that Arthur C’s adage is entirely unlikely to apply to wine. And that’s a good thing because I think it applies to nearly everything else from entertainment to baby making.

Sitting on the couch yesterday I looked up at my 4k Ultra, 60 inch TV screen and was entirely struck by how completely different its image is from the screen I grew up with and watched Walter Cronkite read the news, Willie Mays play center field and the Professor making the most outlandish use of coconuts. “Magic” is really the most apt description.

I then sat and started reading a new story about Cambridge University researchers and scientists who had created the first self-developing mice embryo out of stem cells:

“The transformation of a fertilized egg into a tiny living embryo ranks among nature’s most impressive feats. Now scientists have replicated this critical step towards a new life for the first time, growing an artificial mouse embryo from stem cells in the lab.

The cells, grown outside the body in a blob of gel, were shown to morph into primitive embryos that perfectly replicated the internal structures that emerge during normal development in the womb.

While the artificial embryo closely resembled the real thing, the researchers said it is unlikely that it would develop further into a healthy foetus. This would require the addition of the yolk sac, which provides nourishment for the embryo and within which a network of blood vessel develops.

The Cambridge team is now hoping to create similar artificial embryos with human cells.

Magic! Simple magic. And anyone who doubts we will learn how to create that artificial human yolk sac so that human babies can be “developed” outside the womb just isn’t worth talking to.

Still, it’s all a little artificial isn’t it. But then there is wine.

Whether grown in a giant test tube or in artificially augmented soil or in alien soil, the grapes still need to be squished and their juice fermented. It has been this way for 1000s of years already. The new, modern winemaking technology might thrill the ancients, but they would still recognize the job it does of squishing, crushing, and holding the fermenting juice.

It’s comforting. And this seemingly elemental truth about fermented fruit is likely one of the things that has the power to attract some of us to wine in such a forceful way.

Still, it is fun to imagine how winemaking and wine will change 100 years on. Surely there will be far more efficient ways to husband the grapes to maturity. Perhaps through some miracle of biology the grapes will be brought to ripeness in days rather than months. Perhaps ferments will happen in moments. Perhaps vines will never again be molested by pests. Who knows.

But while it seems we will likely consume entertainment that surrounds us in perfect 360 degree definition rather than in front of us in mere 4K Ultra definition, and while we may watch our children grow and develop in a home-maintained vessel of magic sauce, I think we are likely to be forced to squish and ferment grapes.


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Time to Question the Weed & Wine Collaboration Scenario

March 2, 2017 - 1:00pm

Though in its infancy and surely with a long way to go before true legitimacy, the rising Cannabis industry appears to have its eyes set on becoming part of the artisan tourist industry that wineries invented and are far down the road to perfecting. One question that needs answering is this: Does the wine industry need the cannabis industry or does the cannabis industry need the wine industry?

This is just one of the questions that will be explored at the Weed & Wine Symposium planned for August in Sonoma County.

From the sound of those who are promoting the upcoming Weed & Wine Symposium (it sounds fascinating) you get the impression that wine needs weed. According to Tawnie Logan, the Executive Director for Sonoma County Growers Alliance:

“It is imperative that the wine industry understand the nuances and how to collaborate with us. The wine industry has had one hundred years to develop, and now gives back to social and environmental causes. We are at year one. We need the wine industry to help bring us in, and show us what responsible industry practices look like.”

Is it really imperative that the wine industry understand the nuances of how to collaborate with weed? Is it imperative that the wine industry teach its competitor how get the job done? I’m not completely sure it is.

One the topic of the opportunities and threats to the wine industry from cannabis, Logan says:

“There are many opportunities if the wine industry can get ahead of it. They have the opportunity to work with a new tourist attraction to Sonoma County.  We have wine, food, ocean, biking, and kayaking.  Craft beer tourism is a new menu item for tourists. Not all visitors are wine drinkers. Men are attracted to beer and spirits, and women want wine. But we are seeing a generational shift.  We need to figure out how to incentivize a tourist target market. How many items can they pack into a trip?  If you are over 40 years old, maybe you are angled toward the wineries, and you want to experience the vineyards. Kids in their 20’s want to hit Russian River Brewery and the dispensaries, so it’s a different kind of crowd. If we market this appropriately and make it collaborative, we can all do well.”

Call me the Devil’s advocate. Call me skeptical. But this sounds an awful lot like the cannabis industry wants to introduce the wine industry to light spending 20-year-olds, while the wine industry introduces big spending 40 and 50-year-olds to the Cannabis industry. Is that a fair trade? I’m just spitballing here, but what Ms. Logan says is correct. There are only so many items a visitor will pick up on a trip. Does the wine industry want to promote the idea that its best customers take home something other than wine?

Rebecca Stamey-White is a partner at Hinman & Carmichael, perhaps the most prestigious law firm in the wine industry.

“I think the risk of competition is being over-blown. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.”

It’s not overblown. Anyone who doesn’t believe that the cannabis industry is going to suck sales from the alcohol industry doesn’t understand the nature of the two products. The question is which part of the wine industry will get hit hardest. Surely it will be those in the industry selling relatively lower priced wines to those who covet the fruit of the vine as much for its ability to calm the nerves as its relationship to the terroir and its minerally undertones. But it sounds to me also that those suggesting the wine industry collaborate with the cannabis industry also have their sights set on wines higher end buyers.

Stamey-White goes on to say:

“There is room for collaboration, with consumers enjoying both industries at different points in time. For example, the food element is something the wine industry has done really well. Cannabis goes really well with food, so collaboration on the hospitality around food may be a great chance to work together.”

I attended the interesting Wineries Boot Camp put on by the Luxury Marketing Council yesterday and listen to a panel of pot marketers talk to the wine industry. When asked about the pairing abilities of weed and food, one of the smartest guys I’ve heard discuss pot in a while said, “have you ever noticed what happens to your appetite after you smoke pot?”

That’s not so much a claim that weed and food match well with each other as much as it is a confession that people are willing to ingest a wider variety of foods when they are high. And that’s a great thing if you have the executive chef for Taco Bell headlining your wine and food pairing dinner.

If I was the owner of a wine estate with land and vineyards, I’d certainly want to hear what gets said at the Wine & Weed Symposium. I’d like to know if there is value in putting my brand name on some cannabis products. I’d like to know if there is added revenue to be had by growing weed next to my vines. I’d like to know what added value comes with putting the name of my AVA on a package of weed.

But I wouldn’t necessarily be convinced quite yet that wine and weed are natural industries to collaborate. However, I am convinced that the coming cannabis industry has far more to gain by getting the wine industry to collaborate with them than the wine industry gets from the bargain.

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Bring Kids to Napa Wine Country — A Bad Idea

March 1, 2017 - 1:00pm

It probably seems like a good idea when the kids are finally down and you are at the computer with a nice glass of wine in your hand. Sure, why not plan a little family vacation to Napa Valley, kids and all?

Here’s the truth. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a bad idea.

Let’s be very clear. One goes to Disneyland to immerse the kids in the magic of Disney and ride some rides. One heads to New York for a deep dive into the cosmopolitan/international big city culture. One heads to Gettysburg to be exposed to history. But you go to Napa to drink and eat like adults and enjoy the pretty backdrop. It’s not what kids want and it’s not what Napa is for.

Unless your kids are 21 or older, don’t bring them here. Why? Because you’re coming here to drink. You may think your kids will behave and appreciate a well-appointed tasting room. You may think a quick stop at the boring old Grist Mill will satisfy them. You may think they’ll appreciate a bowl of pasta while you and the spouse chow down on sous vide beets and basil. But they won’t.

There are a number of articles you can find to justify dragging your kids to this part of the world: “Doing Napa with the Kids!” They are all wrong. Why would you want ruin any possible future appreciation of this place for your kids might one day develop by giving them memories of sitting in a chair in the corner of a tasting room while you stand at the bar slurping down shots of Cabernet? Why would you want to spoil a chance to suck down the best shots of Cabernet you’ve ever had by having to peek over your shoulder ever minute to make sure the little ones haven’t run into the cellar or aren’t reaching up to try and grab that beautiful $350 crystal Riedel decanter tottering on the merchandise table?

While a lovely and unique place, Napa Valley is not, I promise you, so special that you must get here even if it means bringing the young kids along. This all sounds harsh. But what I’m doing here really is looking out for the adults. Treat yourself right. Drop the kids at the aunt’s house for a few days. Get granny to come over and watch them. Then, and only then, head off for Napa. Splurge for a driver. Take two or three days to yourself to drink copious amounts of great wine. Linger at beautiful restaurants, Look down at the valley from atop Spring Mountain. Learn to cook pasta right at the CIA. But do it without the kids.

You’re gonna thank me.

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The $124 Million Wine Fraud

February 28, 2017 - 2:28pm

“We can’t support that bill and it doesn’t matter that it’s a good bill for our members. If we do, the wholesalers will kill all the bills we are looking to pass this year.”

This response, from the head of a wine industry association, is not unique. That is to say, I’ve heard it said before; every year I hear it said; it gets blurted out by wine industry associations of all types in many states.

The middlemen box-movers of the alcohol industry are likely very pleased when they hear tell of such statements. It means their campaign contributions to lawmakers are doing the job they were meant to do. Ever wonder just how much money booze wholesalers give to politicians?

According to the Institute for Money in State Politics, since 2006 through 2016, booze wholesalers have given just over $124 million dollars in campaign contributions — Just to STATE-based political campaigns. Compare that to how much money was given to state political campaigns by alcohol producers in the same time period: $20.5 million — and half of that came from three entities: Diageo, The California Wine Institute and Gallo.

The massive amount of donations by booze box movers isn’t just a means of obtaining outsized influence. It’s a hedge against having to tell the truth. Too often, sensible bills reforming the archaic and outdated three-tier system and other alcohol related laws never get even a hearing after the wholesalers visit the chairmen of committees and tell them, “No Hearing!” As a result, wholesalers are not forced to make a public case for their self-serving, protectionist and discriminatory policy positions. And that’s important because their principled arguments always boil down the same thing: “we don’t want to work, we want protection having to earn our place in the system. Please don’t make us work.”

Occasionally, the chairmen of a House or Senate committee is not influenced by wholesaler money and hearings on sensible bills occur. This is when it really gets funny. Every time a wholesaler or their representative opens their mouth to the media or to a panel of lawmakers at a committee hearing they end up making the most outlandish claims about what a direct shipping bill will result in or why producers ought not have the right sell their own products to retailers or restaurants.

The other day in Connecticut, the head of the state’s wholesaler association claimed that if out-of-state retailers were allowed to ship wine directly to consumers, you’d have massive amounts of Jack Daniels flowing over the border. I was watching the hearing and thought to myself, that’s absolutely absurd. Why not just go down to the corner and buy it rather than overpaying due to the shipping costs? Then I realized the proper response was, “So what?” But to the wholesaler representative testifying, the idea that a consumer didn’t buy their wine, let alone their Jack Daniels, from a retailer that obtained it from a Connecticut wholesaler was akin to the apocalypse.

There are a number of bills in states across the country right now that in one way or another reform the Three Tier System or make access to alcohol simpler for consumers. Many of them won’t get a committee hearing because wholesalers will make demands on those that control whether or not a hearing happens. The only way to combat this attempt to prevent wholesalers from embarrassing themselves in public when they are forced to make a case for their own economic protection is sunshine.

Consumers need to pick up the phone and call committee chairs and their state representatives and demand a hearing on these bills. The media needs to be informed of the bills and they need to inform the public about them. It is the only way to combat the hypocritical, anti-social antics of the alcohol box movers.

Remember, $124 Million dollars can’t be washed out by exposure to the light. But its impact can fade.

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