Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors Houston wine buyers find creative ways to source labels beyond mainstream channels

best italian wine list houstonAbove: Thomas Moësse authors my (current) favorite Italian wine list in Houston at Divino. There’s a lot of great Italian wine in my adoptive city and it seems that more is finding its way here every day.

Not a lot has changed in the way wine is shipped and distributed in Texas since I moved here nearly eight years ago.

The two biggies — Glazer’s and Republic — continue to control 99 percent an overwhelming majority of the market and small and independent distributors continue to be thwarted by restrictive policy and excessive regulation of wine sales.

The main issue is that it is illegal in Texas to use an outside fulfillment warehouse or delivery trucks. In other words, you have to own your own temperature-controlled storage and vehicles. Those costs are prohibitive for a small business owner who’s trying to bring small allocations of wine to the state.

Heavy taxation on wholesale wine sales is another issue (yes, taxation in Texas, people). Unless you are working with big volume, it’s nearly impossible to compensate for the bite that the state takes from your profit and still deliver competitive pricing. (Errata corrige, July 7, 2016: currently, Texas “subjects mixed beverages [i.e., alcoholic beverages] to a total tax of 15.25 percent [between] the mixed beverage gross receipts tax and the new mixed beverage sales tax, – 1.25 percent higher than in 2013.” That’s nearly twice the 8 percent sales tax that Californians pay in San Diego, my hometown, for example.)

The Texan political class claims deregulation as its battle cry. But when it comes to the wine trade, Austin legislators have regulated our right to drink artisanal wine into the ground. Here in Texas, freedom’s just another word for shitty wine diminished diversity in the marketplace.

When the newly appointed editor at the Houston Press asked me to do a round-up of “wine deals” for summer, I reached out to our city’s growing number of progressive wine professionals and was wholly impressed by their “out-of-the-big-wine-box” approach.

For July’s Loire Fest, which will include 20+ Houston wine-focused venues, the organizer bargained with distributors (large and small) to get the best deals on by-the-glass pours. That’s going to translate into aggressive pricing for average Giovannas and Giuseppes like me.

Another example is the model embraced author of my favorite Italian wine list in Houston. He sources many of his wines directly in Italy and then works with small distributors to bring them in. They are willing to take on the risk because they are confident that they won’t be saddled with unsold wine.

Even a restaurant like Prego, a workhorse Italian in an upscale Houston neighborhood since 1983 (as the name reveals), has a compact but sturdy list of groovy Rhône-variety rosés from natural and forward-thinking Californian producers sourced from courageous “small business owner” distributors.

Any one of my hipper-than-though hipper-than-thou W-burg colleagues would find plenty of good wine to drink this summer in my adoptive city. And it’s all thanks to a new generation of Texan wine professionals who find ways to get us the wine we want (and the wine we don’t know that we want).

Bottoms up, Houstonians! Here’s to our best wine summer yet and here’s my post today for the Houston Press.

2 thoughts on “Freedom’s just another word for shitty wine: Houston defiant in the face of corporate distributors Houston wine buyers find creative ways to source labels beyond mainstream channels

  1. Hi Dr J, not sure why any of this would lead to the dissolution of a friendship…

    Did you mean “Any one of my hipper-than-though” or “Any one of my hipper-than-thou” in any event, love the Billyburgh comment, lol.

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