Many Americans will scoff at the thought that wine shop workers are “essential” workers.
But they might also be surprised to learn that most states have designated liquor stores as essential businesses — and that includes wine shops.
In Houston where we live, like elsewhere in our nation, health officials have openly shared their reasoning behind the decision to allow the retail sale of alcohol during mandatory lockdown: “to avoid a spike in residents flooding hospitals with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal,” according to the Houston Chronicle, the city’s paper of record.
The move by cities, counties, and states across the country is part of a larger wave of legislators and administrators relaxing restrictions on alcohol sales during the ongoing pandemic.
In Texas, for example, our otherwise microcephalic governor has allowed restaurants to sell alcohol, including wine, directly to customers. Before the health crisis, this would have been unthinkable in a state with some of America’s most restrictive laws regulating the sale of alcohol (geared to appease the powerful wholesaler lobby, a classic case of Republican hypocrisy where all-American fair competition is stifled by government overreach).
So, yes, wine shop workers, just like the importers and distributors that supply the products they sell, are essential. They are also mothers, fathers, spouses, partners, and caretakers for the elderly and disabled, human beings with mortgages, rent, and health insurance premiums to pay and kids to feed.
And we can and should support them by patronizing the businesses where they are employed.
Since the pandemic and lockdowns began, our family has continued to buy wine regularly, although our budget is much tighter these days and our price ceiling has lowered significantly.
Because of disruptions in the supply chain, I’ve come to rely even more heavily on my local wine merchants for the selection we bring home.
At Vinology in Houston, for example, my friend Riccardo Guerrieri selects all the wines I purchase. I give him a price ceiling and general notes on what Tracie and I want to drink. And he’s done an incredible job of surprising and delighting us with his picks. Because he knows our palates so well, he’s also been finding us great deals on wines he knows we’ll like (he’s literally batting a thousand right now).
At the Houston Wine Merchant, on the other hand, another retailer I rely on for sourcing wine, the staff has been keeping the online inventory up-to-date with meticulous precision. This allows me to browse the “shelves” as if I were visiting the shop in person. And more importantly, when I can’t find the exact wine I want, the portal’s filters make it possible to narrow my searches. As a result, we’ve discovered producers we don’t commonly reach for.
One positive thing about the new normal in wine sales is that all of my favorite retailers are doing curbside delivery, thus ensuring my safety and their own.
Every time someone from Vinology or Houston Wine Merchant emerges from the shop and puts a case of wine in the back seat of my F150, I remember that they are front-line, essential workers. And they need and deserve our support.
You can also support wine retailers, wine-focused restaurateurs, wine distributors and importers by leaving a comment on the U.S. Trade Representative website expressing your concern that expanded and increased tariffs on European wines will have an outsized impact on small businesses in the U.S. at a time when they are already facing enormous challenges owed to the ongoing pandemic. Use the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance portal to streamline the process. The deadline for comment is July 26.