Political Theater & Kentucky Wine

This has to be one of the more interesting wine-related political donnybrooks I’ve seen in a while.

It’s rare to see a chain of liquor stores come out and say, "we won’t buy that category of wine because we don’t like their politics", but that’s exactly what Liquor Barn of Kentucky said the other day as reported in the Currier-Journal. Liquor Barn was PISSED that Kentucky wineries supported a bill to allow wine sales in grocery stores (I know….how audacious of the wineries!). As you can imagine, liquor stores that have a monopoly on wine sales don’t like this idea? If you have to ask why, then move on.

Well, after the Louisville paper ran a story on Liquor Barns internal boycott of Kentucky wines, Roger Leasor, president of Liquor Barn, back peddled and called off his boycott: "I’m not going to fight with my neighbors," Leasor said"

Apparently, after the Louisville Courier-Journal ran the story on the stores boycott, Mr. Leasor got a few emails. He also got a few phone calls. And apparently the grocery and food processing union in Kentucky, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227, made clear it would start its own boycott of Liquor Barn if they didn’t re-evaluate and begin to buy Kentucky wines again.

Liquor Stores, Wineries, Unions, Email, Newspapers, Phone calls….All in a days work, right?

This is exactly how like-minded people attack threats and attack problems…with united coalitions of folks that can find ways to work together for a common interests. I love this story!

I love it in part because the small Kentucky wineries win something of a victory against the big boys. But frankly, I also love it because of Liquor Barn’s cajones. I believe that business should take the kind of stands that Liquor Barn tried to take in protecting its interests. It’s just that Liquor Barn doesn’t understand it’s own interests very well. They mistakenly think that grocery stores selling wine is bad for liquor stores in the long run. Of course it isn’t. The more exposure folks have to wine, the more likely they are to want to try different kinds. And Liquor Barn is perfectly positioned to take advantage of that interest.

It’s similar to wine wholesalers opposition to direct sales of wine. They think they’ll lose money or lose the grip they have on alcohol distribution via the three tier system if direct shipment is allowed. This knee jerk reaction prevents them from looking at the opportunities that exist for the wholesale tier when consumers begin looking around at different wines and get a taste for diversity. Consumers will look just as hard on retail shelves once that taste gets into their mouth.

So it appears that Kentucky wine will remain in Liquor Barn. Whether Kentucky actually allows grocery stores to sell wine is another question.

4 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - October 3, 2008

    In the stone age, when I was a winery rep and dealt with a fairly large distributor in NY State, my boss at the winery–the owner–wrote a letter to the NY legislature supporting a bill that was being discussed to allow wine sales in grocery stores.
    On day, during a scheduled meeting with the sales manager at the distributor, I’m interrupted mid-sentence when the owner of the distributor company opens the door to the manager’s office, looks at me and says, “Your boss is in trouble.”
    He calls the manager out to the hallways. I hear them arguing a few minutes and then the manager comes back.
    Full of apologies, the sales manager tells me that our meeting is over. He says the owner was pissed that my boss supported wine in grocery stores and that as of that day, the distributor no longer represents the winery.
    I asked how the guy found out about the letter, which was sent to a legislator and never made public. Well, I didn’t need an answer to that question.
    Incidentally, that distributor is now out of business, but the winery I used to work for thrives. There is some justice in the world, but not complete justice: still can’t buy wine in grocery stores in NY State.

  2. Dylan - October 4, 2008

    Wow, Thomas–that’s some anecdote. There’s something to these knee-jerk reactions. I don’t know when people begin to lose their cool, I guess when they start becoming successful. As a parallel, AMC was much the same way in response to a group of super-fans who created twitter accounts of the characters on the show and lived out their fictional lives on the site. Rather than foster this sense of community engagement, AMC immediately demanded a cease and desist. (After some soothing words from their agency of record, they took back their statement)
    How’s that any way to treat progress, though?
    There’d be a lot less back-peddling and tarnished images if people just thought about things before they reacted.

  3. jane - October 5, 2008

    I was kind of disappointed that Liquor Barn flip-flopped when the story hit the Internet. It happened so fast, I didn’t have a chance to get some juicy commentary from Kentucky winemakers! Thanks for sharing it with us all, Tom. Sometimes, bad publicity does make for better business.

  4. kevin keith - October 8, 2008

    This story totally sneaked by me and right in my own backyard! That’s what I get for being sick. Liquor Barn shouldn’t really care one way or the other because of the monopoly they hold down state, particularly in Lexington, where they are it. My stores contend with grocery stores selling wine everyday and it really doesn’t affect us – I am referring to the ones across the river in Ohio. You can go anywhere north by just a few miles and bam, grocery stores with wines. What this kind of competition does is make everyone more competitive, which is great for business. Liquor Barn however, wants to be the only game in town, though that is becoming more difficult in Louisville at least. It’s nice that the unions chimed in to put LB in its place.

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