The Wine Gangsters of Illinois

You see it in movies and read about it in history books. Tommy gun-totting gangsters break into the warehouse of an up and coming entrepreneur who wants to make a business selling out of state whiskey to the local speakeasies and friends. However, that territory is already controlled by the heavy hitting gangsters, the ones with the big guns. They won’t tolerate any competition and are willing to put out the lights of anyone willing to set up shop. It’s 1923.

Fast forward to 2006. Prohibition is long gone. However, the gangsters are still with us in the form of the the big liquor distributors. Their Tommy Guns have been replaced by donations to state legislators, and the little guy is still being pushed out of business by the liquor wholesalers who have come to the will do and say whatever it takes to fight free trade and fairness.

Now it’s happening in Illinois where House Bill 4350, introduced solely on behalf of money wielding wholesalers by recipients of their cash, would take way Illinois wineries’ right to ship to consumers AND their right to sell direct to retailers and restaurants. Of course this also means that Illinois residents would no longer be able to purchase wines direct from out of state wineries.

But none of this matters.

The big liquor distributors in Illinois are willing to put Illinois wineries out of business not because they fear the sales they will lose to the minuscule number of people buying wine direct from Illinois or California wineries. They fear the coming loosing their some of their wholesale business to restaurants and retailers.

Illinois House Bill 4350 assures that out of state wineries will not be able to sell and ship directly to to restaurants and retailers. While out-of-state wineries do not currently have this right, they would soon. Recently a Federal judge in WA State ruled a state may not allow in state wineries to sell direct to restaurants and retailers while prohibiting out of state wineries from doing the same. It’s economic discrimination that was found unconstitutional in last year’s wine supreme court decision. The wholesalers know there is only one way to prevent this potential hit to their business. Remove the discriminatory situation by destroying in state wineries who rely on their long time ability to ship sell and deliver wine to restaurants and retailers. They sell far more this way than direct to consumers.

Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, the Gangsters behind this bill, have given more than $3.4 million to state legislators. State Reps. Lou Lang,Jay Hoffman, and Republican State Sen. Timothy Schmitz are now paying back the distributors by introducing and backing this bill.

Illinois’ small, family wineries, as you might imagine, have not given any sort of contributions to state legislators. And you can bet that most wine retailer and restaurant associations will either support the gangsters or sit this one out. One wonders who the likes of Sam’s Wine & Spirits, a huge Illinois retailer who ships around the country and the Wine Enthusiast Magazine Retailer of the Year, will address this new piece of legislation. Will they stand up for their state’s wineries?

Really the only hope the Illinois retailers have is to put public pressure on the legislature. They need to do this by getting on the phones and calling new-papers and talking to them about this obscene power grab by wholesalers and payback by bought off legislators. They need to get the media to call out the gangsters. They need to shine the light on what would be the legislated death of the state’s small, family wineries.

Posted In: Shipping Wine


5 Responses

  1. Terry Hughes - January 9, 2006

    The old guard dies hard. Adapt or die, as they said to the recording industry; finally adapting.
    I’d be surprised if any retailer, even one as big as Sam’s, decided to rock the boat. Too bad, overall wine sales could skyrocket.

  2. Mark Finley - January 9, 2006

    Retailers need to get their customers involved as well. A few years back I heard from a retailer of a California legislature proposal to bring back fair trade for imported wines. I not only went after my legislators, I sent a nasty email to Kude Winery who was hosting an event for the sponsoring legislator. They seemed a bit taken back by the reaction – in any event the event got cancelled.

  3. Justin - January 9, 2006

    How incredibly sad how overtly people will act in the name of greed. I fear that this issue will not get enough attention to sway the legislative vote on this issue.

  4. Mike Boegler - January 12, 2006

    Illinois grape growers and vintners are fighting this tooth and nail, however our resources are limited, we can use all the help we can get.

  5. Dave - January 15, 2006

    Although this may well be a transaction, stupidity can not be completely ruled out when it comes to the Illinois legislature. Ten or so years ago, then Gov. Edgar vetoed a bill which banned the operation of motorcycles during the first year of ownership. The reason for the ban; 80% of motorcycle accidents occur during that first year of ownership. It was, in the collective wisdom of our elected representatives, a quick way to reduce the motorcycle accident rate.

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