Above: Master of Wine Ashley Hausman Vaughters (left) greets New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov at the Boulder Burgundy Festival in mid-October.
It’s an issue and cause dear to my heart: the death-grip hold that American wine wholesalers employ (and enjoy) as they continue to stifle interstate retail sales of wine in the U.S.
I call it a “death grip” because it’s killing wine culture among young people across our nation. I’ve traveled from coast to coast over the last three years, visiting not just major markets but also budding wine communities in fly-over country and beyond. Again and again, I’ve met young wine professionals who are thirsty and eager to taste iconic Italian wines that they simply cannot get in their home cities. As the wholesale lobby has continued to tighten its grip on interstate retail sales, young sommeliers are increasingly forced to travel to other markets to taste wines otherwise unavailable to them.
It’s unfair, it’s anti-competitive (anti-capitalist) it’s un-American, and it’s downright pig-headed: not only does it hurt U.S. consumers who simply can’t buy the wines that they want, it’s putting a generation of future wine professionals and restaurateurs at a disadvantage.
I’m a wine buyer in California (where I write two lists) and Texas (where I write one). Over and over again, I see wines that are available to me and to consumers in California that are not available to me and my fellow consumers here in Texas (and in some cases, vice versa). And it’s thanks to efforts of the powerful wholesaler lobby. As farty old white men are getting rich in Texas and Florida (the states where some of the worst offenders make their home), American wine lovers are being denied a fundamental right that other Americans take for granted (it’s called the “Interstate Commerce Act”).
As New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov put it in his column this week for the paper: “In an age where you can order just about anything on the internet, including wine, consumers deserve safe access to great retailers over state borders.”
- For a golden moment, motivated wine lovers could rely on high-speed internet as a sort of national wine shop. A consumer in Little Rock, Ark., for example, unable to find particular bottles locally, could order them from a shop in New York. It required only a willingness to pay shipping costs.
- Those days are no more. In the last year or so, carriers like United Parcel Service and FedEx have told retailers that they will no longer accept out-of-state shipments of alcoholic beverages unless they are bound for one of 14 states (along with Washington, D.C.) that explicitly permit such interstate commerce…
- But now, states — urged on by wine and spirits wholesalers who oppose any sort of interstate alcohol commerce that bypasses them — have stepped up enforcement efforts. Retailers say that the carriers began sending out letters to them a year ago saying they would no longer handle their shipments.
Please read Eric’s excellent piece for the Times.
And for some background and perspective, see this post by blogger and industry observer Tom Wark, who has written for years about this un-American, anti-competitive, monopolistic lobby.