A New Voice For Wine Retailers

The battles over direct shipment of wine across state borders has largely been a fight between wineries and wine wholesalers, the former wanting the right to ship wine direct while the latter hoping to stop it all together. What’s been missing from the discussion has been the voice of wine retailers. That’s likely to change with the creation of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association.

The creation of a number of companies that rely on direct shipping, SWRA will work to include retailers in the deals that get struck across the country as wine shipping laws are changed in the face of last year’s Supreme Court decision that declared discrimination aimed at out of state wineries is unconstitutional.

The reason retailers have been left out of the direct shipping discussions is due to the fact that retailers across the country have been split on the issue. Some have always been against it because they feared the competition. Others have embraced direct shipping, obviously; witness the number of on-line retailers who have mastered the art of on-line wine sales.

But because there has been no consensus among wine retailers as to how to react to direct shipping, that segment of the wine market has largely stayed out of the politics of direct shipping and not taken sides on the issue. As a result there has never been any motivation on the part of the wineries, or wholesalers, to take into account the retailers when it came time to make a deal.

This was never more evident when California changed its direct shipping laws in 2005. California scrapped its "reciprocal shipping" scheme that only allowed other "reciprocal" states to ship into California and opened up the state to all wineries to ship to California residents. Yet, it kept in place the reciprocity arrangement for out-of-state retailers. And its not as though retailers didn’t ask for the same privileges that California was planning to give to all wineries. The retailer simply had no political capital to insist that their type across the country be included in the new California shipping deal. So as a result, you have the bizarre instance of California changing its shipping laws to pass constitutional muster while putting in place what appears to be an unconstitutional arrangement with regard to retailers. CA and a few other states’ retailers can ship to consumers, but retailers in other states cannot. All because the players at the table didn’t care enough about the retailers to provide room for them in the law.

And why should the wineries have gone to bat for retailers? It’s not as though as an industry they went to bat for wineries over the past decade of direct shipping battles.

I suspect the new Specialty Wine Retailers Association is aware of these circumstances. And i suspect they are well aware of the fact that they are being left out of the discussion currently going on in a number of states.

Luckily the new Association is filled with some very smart, committed retailers such as Leslie Berglund of Ambrosia and Todd Zucker of K&L Wine Merchants.

It’s about time this kind of organization arose. It’s going to ad another progressive voice to the direct shipping issue. In addition, this organization can credibly make the argument that direct shipping from retailers is GOOD for the anti-shipping wholesalers since it moves product that often times has already gone through the wholesalers’ hands, allow increased sales for wholesalers and the retailers refill their shelves and websites with more wine.

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