Sommeliers Takes on the The 3 Tier System
When you do see an examination of the three tier system of alcohol sales in print, it usually speaks to the rather odd and anti-consumer shipping laws we find in many states across the country. That’s why I was fascinated and happy to see an article in the Sommelier Journal that examined the condition and efficacy of this mandated use of wholesalers from the perspective of the Sommelier.
Written by Napa Valley resident Bob Bath (a Master Sommelier himself), it is a very fair article to the three tier system as well as its critics. And it gets into issues that are very specific to buying wine through the system for use in restaurants.
What clear to me from the article is that as the alcohol wholesalers continue down their consolidating path toward the existence of only a handful of wholesalers that each represents 1000s of labels, sommeliers are going to need to find a way to get their hands on those wines that the wholesalers don’t insist they buy before they can have the "good stuff"; sommeliers will need to find a way to obtain wines that these wholesalers have no interest in representing or being delivery boys for.
The Direct To Trade system established by one of Wark Communications’ clients, Inertia Beverage Group, is clearly one such system. And I think other such system will emerge out of necessity. For sommeliers in places like California and Washington, where real winery self distribution is allowed, the ability to source wines without having to go through a pitch for Mondavi Coastal, Yellowtail or Smirnoffs is available. But for most restaurants, it’s a matter of taking what’s on the list of the few remaining wholesalers in your area and being happy with it.
The Sommelier Journal, now into its 5th issue since its founding earlier this year is doing a wonderful job at covering wine for a sophisticated audience.