The Two Faces of Wine

Here’s a little trick for evaluating the true concerns of an organization associated with wine: compare the things they like to talk about VERSUS those things they DON’T talk about.

Take the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association as an example.

The other day they issued a press release that breathlessly and near hysterically denounced all on-line retailers for the way they sell wine. The organization’s president Craig Wolf said this:

"On-line retailers are playing fast and loose with alcohol laws — shipping beer, wine and liquor with no fear of being caught doing something illegal — including selling to kids."

Their press release came in response to a media sting that caught an out-of-state retailer shipping into Iowa where retailers are prohibited from shipping (it’s OK for wineries to ship into Iowa).

What’s interesting is that the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association doesn’t issue  press releases condemning brick & mortar retailers  for the far, far more common occurrence of brick and mortar retailers selling wine to minors.

In fact, WSWA is on record suggesting that direct shipping out to be outlawed by states because it’s just too easy, they say, for minors to use the on-line channel to get their hands on alcohol. Yet we all know that minors get alcohol far more often via the brick and mortar retailer. Yet, we here no call for brick and mortar alcohol sales to be shut down.

The difference, of course, is that wine wholesalers make money when a bottle of wine is sold out of a brick and mortar store to a minor, but they don’t make money when a bottle of wine is shipped into a state.

The Specialty Wine Retailers Association, of which I am the executive director, made this point today in  a press release that went out nationwide, to wine bloggers and the national wine media.

Does this mean that the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association don’t care about underage drinking? Probably not. However, you might conclude that they care a lot more about any kind of drinking their members don’t make a profit on. After all, everyone has to rank their concerns in terms of priority. One way to get at that priority if you are an outsider is to look at what kind of folks they want to condemn and what kind of folks they want to coddle.

8 Responses

  1. Peter - March 28, 2007

    Sure, its easy to order alcohol on line, but how easy is it to take delivery, if you are underaged? Are there any delivery people at UPS, FEDEX, etc willing to lose their job to make certain the booze gets through?

  2. Phyll - March 28, 2007

    I enjoy your blog and I am a frequent reader.
    With all due respect, either way their press release and your subsequent press release reek of self-interest. I believe you are even sidestepping the main issue here, by concentrating on the the underage issue. While it’s dramatic and an attention grabber, it’s only a sub-issue, albeit an important one. (Wolf placed “…– including the kids” as a side note to his general accusation: violation of alcohol laws).
    As a wine consumer, I can hardly feel any objectivity in the best interest of the wine consumers from either side’s statements. It’s like seeing 2 underage kids tiffing and accusing each other of stealing their candies.

  3. tom - March 28, 2007

    How are you and thanks for the kid words.
    One thing the retailers have never run from is the fact that they simply want the abilty to sell to consumers who want to use their services to procure wine they can’t find in their own market.
    One thing Retailers have not done is make up bogus arguements such as the threat retailer to consumer sales hold for minors.
    Retailers are willing to put limits on how much wine they can ship to a consumer, to pay for a permit, to remit taxes to states, to submit themselves to jurisdiction of the states they are shipping to.
    There is nothing about the retailer to consumer transaction that is any different than the winery to consumer transaction.
    So, no. Retailers are simply stating they want the opportunity to fulfill orders. That is self interested. At least we aren’t holding up children to block us from having to compete.

  4. Saint_Vini - March 28, 2007

    Tom: Nice job on the press release. Keep it up!

  5. Fredric Koeppel - March 29, 2007

    There is no end to the hypocrisy in the world, and the fact that the wholesalers use the “kid issue” as a way to stave off the inevitible simply reeks of bad faith. They ought to embrace the internet and use it instead of manning the barricades.

  6. Luke - March 29, 2007

    When you can buy kegs of PBR on-line for a $4 savings (after delivery costs), and be able to get it whenever your frat decides to throw a party, AND when the delivery guy doesn’t mind droppint it off to an individual with no ID, then I’ll buy the “kid issue.” When the goal is simply “get drunk”, I think we all know there are 1000 easier ways to do it than to charge wine on a credit card and hope it gets delivered to an empty house…

  7. eric - April 1, 2007

    perhaps I am missing something, but it seems to me that if you assume a situation where retailers can ship to any state the distributors don’t have to lose, because their customers (retailers) gain access to a greater market. (i.e. while distibutor in state A loses some money when consumer A buys from state B, they in turn make money when retailer A ships to state B, or C-Z for that matter.)

  8. WineBoy! - April 5, 2007

    What about planet z?

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