Truly Amazing

ANYONE who doubts that foes and opponents of direct shipment of wine and free trade do not have the best interests of wine lovers or consumers at heart need only read the following comment from the wine wholesalers representative in Michigan that appeared in a Wine Spectator article:

"[We] believe that between the wine brands currently approved for
sale in the state and the currently 420-some wineries throughout the
country that have direct-shipping permits, the consumers have
tremendous variety and choice," Lashbrook said."

In case you have not automatically done it, allow me to translate:

"We’ll tell you which wines you should have access to and you’ll like what we give you!!" And by the way, "Approved for Sale" is a euphemism for "the wines wholesalers choose to distribute". Now consider:

-There are 5,000 wineries in the United States.

-At any given time, there are 100,000 different labels (domestic and imported) available in the U.S. marketplace.

-A relatively few fine wine retailers and auction houses in only a few states possess the majority of collectible wines.

-Americans are exploring the diversity of wines like never before.

-Wholesalers in any given state, including Michigan, are incapable of distributing even a small fraction of those 100,000 labels and collectible wines.

More than retailers, it’s most important for consumers to understand that their interests are actively being undermined by a small but powerful group who would look wine buyers in the eye and tell them a pig is a pearl. Well, a Pig is not a Pearl, and the very small selection of wines available to Michigan wine lovers inside the state does not represent "tremendous variety and choice". It represents the wholesalers inventory.

Mr. Lashbrook of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association goes on to make the following point in the Wine Spectator article:

"There’s been people [shipping wine to Michigan
residents] illegally forever," said Mike Lashbrook, president of the
Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. "That’s nothing new.
Some of these folks, their disregard for the laws are truly amazing."

Now, I don’t know which non-Michigan retailers are shipping into that state. But I do know that those that are shipping to Michigan aren’t the people who are placing the orders. Those people are consumers who can’t find what they want inside the state. The extent to which Michigan residents are receiving wine from any out of state retailers is a direct result of the Michigan wine wholesalers inability and/or unwillingness to distribute all the wines that Michigan residents want.

What is "truly amazing" is the spectacular and blatant disregard for consumer choice and consumer access to legal products by wine wholesalers who live under the mistaken impression that the state, wholesalers and consumers ought to disregard the monumental changes that have affected the American wine marketplace, delivery logistics, communications and commercial technology and consumer attitudes toward specialty products that have overtaken this country in the past 15 years. And why should these changes be disregarded?  So a small group of wholesalers can maintain their state-mandated profits at the expense of consumers.

Talk about "Truly Amazing".


7 Responses

  1. Dylan - October 15, 2008

    “There’s been people [shipping wine to Michigan residents] illegally forever,” said Mike Lashbrook, president of the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association. “That’s nothing new. Some of these folks, their disregard for the laws are truly amazing.”
    This statement is completely contradictory to the prior statement about variety of choice. It’s the simple concept of consumer demand. If you won’t give it to them, they’ll try and find a way around it. If Michigan residents were content with their current situation this should be something very new; not “nothing new.”
    Side note: I love the post picture.

  2. fredric koeppel - October 16, 2008

    Tom: what are the states that now allow direct shipping to consumers? I saw an article in the NYTimes about, the intent of which is to serve as a broker between customers and wineries for direct shipping but will never touch a bottle of wine itself. Aren’t the fortunes of such a model still dependent on the direct shipping laws of the individual states? Or is the assumption that wineries doing the shipping take the responsibility and if they want to ship to a “non-shipping” state, well, that’s up to them?

  3. Tom Wark - October 16, 2008

    Fred: roughly 37 states allow wineries to ship and about 14 allow retailers. With American Winery it’s the wineries that are doing he shipping. In the end, the wineries will decide where they want to ship wine.

  4. Mary B. - October 16, 2008

    Killer logic, Tom. I hope you are blitzing the Michigan newspapers with this message. Small town newspapers (the old John Birch crowd) will eat it up. Even if they’re not big wine drinkers they will hate any message that someone, particularly a govt-approved ‘cartel’ is restricting their rights.

  5. Christina - October 16, 2008

    Amusing that this blog came right after my weekend at the Michigan wineries. My mom from Texas and aunt from Minnesota wanted to have wine shipped home and of course, it wasn’t going to happen. Again, even if distributors in Texas or Minnesota carried Michigan wines, would they really try to sell them? Truly amazing is right.

  6. Joel Goldberg - October 17, 2008

    Tom is 100% right on the logic, but I’m less certain about the politics. It’s no accident that more than twice as many states have legalized winery shipping than retailer shipping. States with significant wine production create much stronger constituencies in support of winery shipping than retailer shipping — and there’s far more potential loss by each state’s wholesale monopoly if the latter becomes legal.
    The court outcome here in Michigan may be the same as Granholm #1, but the political results may be different. I hope I’m incorrect.

  7. Bob Doherty - October 17, 2008

    I like your article!

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