Shipping & The Big Question For Wineries

As executive director of Specialty Wine Retailers Association, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about who supports free and open markets in wine and who supports retailer to consumer shipping—the only channel through which consumers can actually access ALL the wines on the market today.

We know consumers do. They’ve written letters to legislators, testified on direct shipping bills, and even donated $1000s of dollars to the work Specialty Wine Retailers Association is carrying out.

We know newspaper editorial boards and wine writers do. They’ve written scads of editorials denouncing the laws that serve to only protect wine distributors from competition.

The Wine 2.0 community has been vocal about their support of both winery and retailer shipping

And we know retailers support free and fair trade and consumer access to wine. See SWRA.



The various winery associations and trade groups have been true to their fiduciary responsibility to their members and seen fit to support laws that prohibit consumers from buying wine from out-of-state retailers both in CA and IL. They have opposed laws that would allow retailer to consumers shipping in WA. And in other cases the wineries have simply been neutral on laws that would open shipping to consumers and retailers. In doing this they’ve supported their members’ needs, despite the impact on consumers and wine merchants. OK…I understand this approach that many trade associations believe they must take.

But the more important issue is not how the various wine trade associations conduct themselves with regard to issues of fair trade in wine and consumer access to wines. The real question is HOW INDIVIDUAL WINERIES STAND ON RETAILER TO CONSUMER SHIPPING? Do the individual wineries support their best customers—wine lovers and the wine merchant?

Does CONSTELLATION BRANDS, perhaps the wine producer that benefits most from support by retailers, support the wine merchants bid to engage in direct to consumer sales? Are they willing to say they do publicly? Are they willing to donate a mere $125 a month to support this cause?

Does JOSEPH PHELPS WINERY support real consumer access to wine? Are they willing to say so publicly or show their support by joining the cause to break down barriers to retailer shipping by putting up, say, what they take in for the sale of a single case of Insignia?

Does DON SEBASTIANI & SONS support retailer shipping or just winery shipping? Are they willing to support efforts to bring down unconstitutional restrictions on retailer shipping and consumer access to wine?

Does STAGLIN think that free trade and shipping for wine merchants is worth supporting through publicly standing up and saying so or by joining an organization that is fighting for the right to sell their wines to consumers that want them but can’t find them?

Will GALLO take a stand for retailers and donate real cash to the cause to allow consumers to access the wines they want?

Will the folks at ALBAN VINEYARDS take a stand against monopolists laws that keep wine retailers from selling their wines to the folks who want them enough to pay shipping from another state? Will they say so publicly? Will they make even a small donation to actually make this happen?

Will the MENDOCINO WINE COMPANY demonstrate its support for its best customers and its consumers by issue a public announcement of support for real fair and free trade in wine? Can they show their support by making a financial donation equivalent to the retail value of a mere 5 cases of their Paul Dolan Zinfandel?

Is DUCKHORN willing to only support winery shipping or will they publicly state they support retailer to consumer shipping, as well as help the only organization fighting for the right of retailers to market Duckhorn wine through direct shipping with a small contribution…just as "thanks" for the effort?

I wonder if RODNEY STRONG VINEYARDS, which has grown significantly with the support of wine merchants, has consumers in mind and will support retailers’ attempts to change wine shipping laws with a small donation to the cause or just a public statement?

What about KORBEL and their family of wineries including Kenwood and Valley of the Moon? Do these folks have any interest in stepping up and supporting consumers and retailers with a monetary donation or public support for retailers who have supported their products for decades?

Do the folks at LORING WINE COMPANY have any interest is supporting the retailers that work to assure their outstanding wines get into the hands to the wine geeks that can’t find them locally or from the winery? Can they step up with a show of support?

And then there is FOSTER WINE ESTATES, one of the largest wine producers in the world with a collection of wines that is nearly entirely dependent on wine merchants for putting these brands in front of the public. Can they afford to donate $1500 a year ($125 per month) ($4 per day) to the cause of retailers, who are fighting for the ability to to sell Foster’s wines to wine lovers across the country? Or is this not important enough for them?

Is it possible that HANZELL VINEYARDS in the hills of Sonoma, a brand that fine wine merchants have supported for literally decades, can find the time to make a donation to, or public statement about, the retailers and consumers that are fighting monopolists for the right to simply fulfill a legitimate demand?

Is there any room in the PAHLMEYER budget to support consumers who merely want the right to purchase wine without the threat of being fined? Do they have room to make a simple statement to the effect that "we support consumers and retailers in their desire to simply do business together"?

I have to think that the folks at VINE CLIFF support free and fair trade in wine and have enough respect for their consumers that they too would show support through donations or public comment for the work consumers do through organizations like SWRA.

Are the IRONSTONE people satisfied with their retail supporters being left out of direct shipping now that they have their battle won, or are they willing to make even a small donation to the cause of direct shipping by retailers and consumer access to wine. Even a short public statement of support would be helpful if they think the cause is worth supporting.

Is it possible that PACIFIC WINE PARTNERS, the marketers behind brands like Rex Goliath, Hardys, Blackstone and Twin Fin and a company that relies tremendously on retailers to sell their products, might be able to help those friends of theirs with some support for the simple cause of direct shipping, or are they content to sit on the sidelines not get involved and see retailers hurt more and more as Pacific’s best customers are shut out of more and more direct ship markets?

Is DIAGEO CHATEAU & ESTATES, a company whose wine such as Chalone, Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards and Acacia, are dependent on retailers, willing to step up and make a small donation to the cause of retailer to consumer shipping or just say out loud, "we support a free and fair market for retailer to consumer sales and shipping"?

There is nothing particularly special about this grouping of wineries other than they, like most other wineries in America, rely on wine merchants to put their wines in front of the consumer. They are a pretty random selection used only to make a point. Each in this group, like most other wineries, COULD afford to support though donations, membership in SWRA or contributions, those retailers and consumers that are working to create a free, fair and accessible market for consumers and retailers alike.

If they choose not to support retailer to consumer shipping, the question is why?

Why let your most important partners work all alone when you can could get involved?

That’s the big question for American wineries. And I suspect both wine merchants and consumers do take some notice of how this question is being answered by wineries.


7 Responses

  1. johng - April 25, 2008

    Wine is a funny business. Where else do producers compete with their retailer for sales, both online and brick-and-mortar? Where else do you have powerful retailers writing or video-casting reviews of the products they sell? Where else do you have so many producers able or interested in either completely abandoning retailers for direct-to-consumer sales, or abandoning one type of retailer (grocery or wine store) and keeping another (restaurant).
    It’s no surprise to me that many wineries are not interested in advancing the ability of retailers to ship nationwide. It may not be fair, but they’re just acting in self-interest.
    Of course that theory applies more to folks you mention like Alban, Staglin, Pahlmeyer, etc. I would think that open shipping would benefit the big boys, so I have no idea why they do not want to play.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - April 26, 2008

    Not habit, John, logistics.
    First, the big boys don’t need open shipping by retailers, because their wines are nationally distributed.
    Second, the big boys don’t need to support direct shipping from wineries to consumer, because that would mean starting a new business inside the winery, and their volume is such to make that a big venture.
    Third, corruption–not habit.

  3. Tom Wark - April 26, 2008

    I don’t mind honestly expressed self interest. It’s refreshing, actually. You are either for a free and open market for wine and support consumer access for wine or you aren’t.
    I think the attempt to identify a middle ground on this issue is intellectually dishonest.

  4. el jefe - April 26, 2008

    I’m thrilled that consumers can choose to visit a retail site like domaine547 or wineQ and purchase my wine along with the other wines they want (even I drink a pinot now and then.) If they want to buy only my wine, they can visit my site if they choose. Either way I do win. And it seems to me that relaxation of retailer shipping rules can only help with similar relaxation of winery shipping rules. I’ve made a donation to SWRA.

  5. Erwin Dink - April 26, 2008

    johng said, “It’s no surprise to me that many wineries are not interested in advancing the ability of retailers to ship nationwide. It may not be fair, but they’re just acting in self-interest.”
    How is it in a winery’s self-interest to deny me, a Georgia resident, access to their wine? I get why distributor’s want to control access to product but there are dozens (hundreds more likely) of US wineries whose wine is not represented by Georgia distributors. It is in the distributor’s self-interest to minimize competition for my money but obviously detrimental to the wineries who aren’t allowed to sell here.

  6. Christina - April 26, 2008

    As a winery that does support the consumers, and the retailers, I have to think that maybe some wineries just don’t understand how it all works. Not because they are ignorant, but because they are quite possibly small and focusing on their tasting room customers.
    It is the specialty retailers that often introduce our wines to consumers. As a winery we must remember this. It is a marketing tool to consumers that have possibly never heard of, for instance, an Illinois winery or any winery outside of the west coast (yes, there are these people, I just met some tonight).
    The consumer is the MOST important in my mind and any outlet that gets the news of a wine out there deserves to be supported.

  7. Steve Heimoff - April 28, 2008

    Keep stirring, Tom. Good stuff.
    While you’re at it, how about our fabulous “green” California wine industry that continues to ship wine in styrofoam packaging? Styrofoam is some of the most evil garbage on Earth. It chokes landfills and releases toxic fumes if it’s burned.

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