Last night my wife and I drank a bottle of 2007 Guy Cabernet Sauvignon. No, we didn’t get the bottle from a wine retailer. Our Guy Riedel wines are the direct result of our recent visit to Napa Valley. That visit once again showed me to what extent state legislatures will go to keep us wine consumers from full access to the market place.
For several days in the Napa-Sonoma regions, I stopped at or drove past wineries with names like Bremer Family, Stagecoach, Hestan, Bennett Lane, Carter Cellars, and others. But I have never seen their wines on retail shelves. Either they are not selected by the wholesalers who supply the retailers, or the retailers don’t select them from the wholesalers’ portfolios.
Of course it’s impossible for wholesale distrbutors to warehouse all the wines available, or for a retailer to shelve them. So to get wines one personally likes from wineries not represented in the wholesaler-retailer three-tier system, we must go fetch them ourselves or live in a place where direct shipment is authorized. While it’s common for those not especially interested in wine to dismiss this as a personal problem, state legislators look on the issue as a great source of election campaign funds from wholesalers eager to retain or strengthen laws governing the shipment of wine within their state. Never mind that on-line sales would generate significant revenue to their state coffers.
As I have written often and lobbied for several years, on-line wine sales nationwide approach $1.5 billion annually, and it’s a shame that legislators would rather collect largesse from wholesalers rather than find a way to bring some of that on-line business to their voters. Some of them argue increasingly feebly that denying direct sales helps prevent underage drinking. There is plenty of evidence that states allowing direct shipments see no special problems with that issue.
This morning’s Wall Street Journal reminds us that on-line sales will grab an increasing share of holiday sales this holiday season — except for wine. A pity.