I’ve Got Questions
I’m off to Chicago for a few days for the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators Annual Conference. I get to appear on a panel with Craig Wolf, CEO of the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association. It should be…Interesting. Well be discussing direct shipping from two very different perspectives.
It’s a good opportunity to finally get some answers to some burning questions I have.
For instance, Mr. Wolf and wine wholesalers across the country have argued for many years now that since there exists the possibility that wine can get into the hands of minors as a result of direct shipment, we ought to close down this channel of commerce all together. We are not being asked to shut down direct shipping because there is an epidemic or severe problem or slight problem with minors obtaining alcohol via direct shipping. We are told we should shut down direct shipment of wine because it poses the possibility that minors can obtain wine via direct shipment.
So the question I really need answered is this: When will Craig Wolf and America’s wine wholesalers call for shutting down all brick and mortar sales of wine?
Perhaps more important, when will Craig Wolf and America’s wine wholesales call for a prohibition on wine being kept in the homes of parents?
It’s not just a possibility that minors obtain alcohol via brick and mortar sales and from the home. It’s a fact.
Will Mr. Wolf call for a new era of Prohibition? I’m doubting it. And I sure hope he does not because if we’ve learned anything about wine wholesalers in America, they tend to get what they want. I’m all in favor of them remaining wed to their hypocritical position: Keep open those channels where minors are most likely to get their hands on wine and close down those channels where minors are not likely to obtain wine.
The other question I’m dying to get answered is how can the wine industry gently break it to consumers, and get them to accept, that they have no business desiring products the wholesalers don’t want to make available. This is tricky one. I’ve been in the PR business for almost 20 years and still am not sure how to get wine lovers to agree that their desire to taste new, different and even obscure wines is a fool’s errand and that they should be perfectly happy with what the wholesalers say they should have access to. Maybe there will be a breakout session at the Conference on this issue. We’ll call it, "Screwing the Consumer, Gently."
This is what consumers are being told when the state either fails to allow direct shipment by retailers to consumers or strips consumers of a right to have wine shipped to them by out of state retailers. Despite the fact that many states that prohibit retailer-to-consumer sales do allow domestic wineries to ship direct into their states, the prohibition on retailer shipping means that thousands of wines are unavailable because wholesalers don’t bring them into the state. The primary effect is on imported wines that can’t be bought direct from their wineries. But how many times has a California winery sold out of a wine or the local retailer has sold out of the wine, while retailers in another state still have some? "All the time" is the correct answer.
One of the things I’ll try to do as I address liquor administrators from around the country is impress upon them the concerns of the consumer. The consumer is so rarely discussed when issues of direct direct shipping is raised you’d think they have nothing to do with the subject when in fact they are the only reason the subject is debated at all.