In the time of the pandemic, the three-tier system needs to go the way of the dinosaurs.

Above: a wine shop in California, a state where wineries have the option to work within the three-tier system or without. As a result, Californians can drink whatever their hearts desire. Here in Texas, it’s a lot better than it used to be, but the three-tier system still controls what wines we have access to.

About a year or so after I moved to Texas and had made friends in the wine business here, I ran into a couple of top wine professionals at the Austin airport (Tracie and I were living in in the state’s capital at the time).

“Where you guys heading?” I asked them.

“San Francisco,” they answered.

“Oh, cool! What’s going on in SF?” I inquired.

“We’re going there to study for our exam,” they said.

Why on earth, I wondered, would they have to fly to California to taste wine when they could simply have the wines shipped here? It turns out they couldn’t.

Both were candidates for the Court of Sommeliers pin and the reason they were traveling to the west coast, they explained, was because some of the wines they needed to taste (Burgundian, if I remember correctly) simply weren’t available in their home state. Not only could they not find them in the Texas three-tier system, they couldn’t have them shipped here because of the state’s highly restrictive and exclusionary shipping laws — a sine qua non element of the three-tier system in the state.

Nonplussed by the fact that the Texas government was practically forbidding them from accessing wines they needed to taste in order to further their careers (and as result, forcing them to travel out of state), I began reading up on and writing about the history of the three-tier system in Texas, the wholesale lobby that essentially wrote the laws making it illegal to enjoy certain wines here, and the people who have aggressively supported the status quo.

Last week I sat down to talk about the relevance of the three-tier system with one of the most brilliant people I know in the wine trade, Ron Prashker, MBA and attorney, startup guru, and owner of the Salcheto winery in Tuscany. On a previous webinar that I moderated (on a new startup that will help small wineries work in the U.S. outside of the three-tier system), Ron had shared some compelling insights regarding the current system for wine shipping and sales in our country. I was eager to dig deeper and he graciously accepted my invitation to chat. We even tasted one of his delicious wines together.

I hope you’ll find our conversation as interesting as I did. Thanks for watching.

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