Washington Wine Institute Hurts Consumers and Retailers…Purposely

Finger Washington State wine consumers have it bad.

Not only does the state make it illegal for in-state and out-of-state retailers to ship to Washingtonians, but the Washington wineries, in the form of their own trade organization the Washington Wine Institute, did all it could this year to kill a proposed law that would have allowed residents of Washington State to legally have wines shipped to them from wine retailers inside and outside the state.

Bottom Line: The Washington Wine Institute and its members, who actively lobbied against all retailer shipping and testified against the bill, acted like protection seeking thugs in their effort to keep Washington residents form having access to the wines they want.

The bill in question, SB 5256, originally would have allowed all retailers, importers and even wholesalers to ship wine to Washington State residents. When the wholesalers said they didn't want such a right, an amendment was offered that left only Washington State and out-of-state retailers allowed to ship. Still the Washington Wine Institute worked to help kill the bill.

I was reminded of just how niggardly the Washington Wine Institute acted this year, when I read their recent wrap up of legislative affairs they sent out in an email. In that email they report that the retailer wine shipping bill "would put our in-state retail partners that currently follow Washington laws at an unfair economic disadvantage. Washington already has one of the most open direct-to-consumer shipping laws in the Country."

Nothing about the proposed law would have hurt Washington retailers. It would let them ship legally to Washingtonians! And Washington States wine shipping laws aren't even close the the most open in the country.

I don't know who wrote this email. I don't even know if the Washington Wine Institute Board of Directors or its winery members saw this email or even understands the position its association took on this issue. But if they were aware of this email and if the board of directors and its general membership of Washington wineries was aware of the Institute's anti-consumer position…Shame on them.

Washington's direct shipping laws are hardly the "most open in the country." Washingtonians are banned from having any and all French, Spanish, German, Italian, Ports, Austrian, New Zealand, Australian, Argentinian, Chilean or any other non-domestic wine shipped to their home. Only retailers in America sell non-domestic wines and, thanks in part to the Washington Wine Institute, Washingtonians still are banned from having such wines shipped to them.

Did the Washington Wine Institute know that consumers in their state can't join wine-of-the-month clubs because retailers operate those? Did the Washington Wine Institute know that consumers in their state can't have auction wines sent to them because auction houses are retailers? Did the Washington Wine Institute know that its consumers are banned from buying the vast majority of rare and hard-to-find wines since it is retailers that sell most of them?

I'm sure they know all this. But they don't care. Either the Washington Wine Institute Board of Directors or its Executive Director decided to simply screw Washington consumer. Well done, Washington Wine Institute!

If any Washington wineries are reading this and if any of you actually care about your customer like you so often say you do, I have a suggestion:

1. Bolt the Washington Wine Institute and Pay Them Not a Dime More in Dues

2. Join Family Wineries of Washington State, an alternative organization of wineries that doesn't want protection like the Washington Wine Institute, that has consumers interests in mind—unlike the Washington Wine Institute, that works hard on behalf of its members and that actually had the right thinking mind to sponsor the bill that would have allowed Washington consumers to have wine shipped to them from retailers.

One can only wonder just how far up in the air the Washington Wine Institute, its Executive Director, its Board of Directors and its membership can stick their finger when theyt concern themselves with Washington wine lovers and retailers.

Shame On Them!


19 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - May 11, 2011

    The word means “miserly or grudgingly releasing funds, etc.”
    Seems to me the WI is being both protectionist and provincial–doesn’t want retailers sending wines that aren’t produced in Wa. and doesn’t want to upset a relationship with in-state retailers who might boycott Wa wines, should the WI endorse such a measure.
    In NY, where the wine in grocery store fight continues, some wineries say that they have been boycotted by retailers for endorsing the grocery store concept.

  2. James McCann - May 11, 2011

    Just goes to show, that in the context of the current fight over HR1161, almost any industry group will act to protect their perceived economic interests. Everyone says they want to “free the grapes”, but retailers fight to stop others from selling wine, wineries fight to keep retailers from shipping, etc…
    Tom, are you affiliated with the rival group?

  3. Tom Wark - May 11, 2011

    The Washington Wine Institute went out of its way to tout just how generous its direct shipping laws are in the state that they supported them. They aren’t generous. They are retrograde. Yet, if, as the WWI says, they lent their support to “one of the most open direct-to-consumer shipping laws in the Country”, then their support for real wine shipping laws can, at best, be considered Niggardly.

  4. PaulG - May 11, 2011

    Tom, you have the expertise to make a statement this strong; I confess to being perplexed by the rash of proposed initiatives that have swept thru WA this past year. The fact is that a lot of illegal shipping goes on, and consumers get what they want to get. It’s just not legal. Once again the government makes criminals out of a large number of tax-paying citizens. The liquor laws in WA are a horrendous mess, no doubt about it. But in practical terms, we do have a lot more choice here than in many places. One great advantage – a lot of small importers and distributors. Not yet dominated by Southern and Odom, though they are certainly major players. Anyway, thanks for shedding some light on things.

  5. Timothy A. Smith - May 11, 2011

    I’ve been a pioneer of building the Washington/Oregon Wine Brands, and I think back how some 35+ years ago, when the WSLCB tried to block any California Wineries from distributing their brands, because “It would Destroy our small based Washington Wineries”.
    Well look at us now, we are the 2nd largest State behind California, in volume and number of wineries, and still growing!
    I’m a shame of the action of the Washington Wine Institue stand of this issue. Let’s face it we are now involved in a global economy, with many wineries, family owned or other wise that produce great wines that we should be able to purchase and enjoy, whether through a wholesaler, broker, or out of State Retailer, Wine Club, etc.
    I enjoyed my first Malbec, and other hard to find varietals, during my travels, across the US, in little wine shops (Retailers, before they were ever available in my State. So as suggested support the Family Wine Makers of Washington, who are trying to make a difference, and have consumers appreciate the many efforts of other producers of the Noble Grape.
    I salute their efforts!!

  6. Tom Wark - May 11, 2011

    Hi Paul.
    If WA State wine lovers have a decent choice of wine, it’s certainly no thanks to the WA Wine Institute.
    Furthermore, if wines are illegally shipped into WA, then the WA Wine Institute is happy to see that situation continue…RATHER than formalize it and allow the state to collect taxes.
    This is not the first time the WA Wine Institute has given the finger to WA wine lovers and to state revenue coffers.
    Given the incoherence and straightforward screwing of WA Wine Lovers and the state that the WA Wine Institute has promoted, I’m surprised the organization’s executive director would be allowed anywhere near that association.
    No WA Winery is hurt by in-state or out-of-state retailers shipping to WA residents, as the WA Wine Institute claims. They would be helped by it. The more WA Wine that is sold at retail, the more room on their shelves and in their warehouses for more WA Wine.
    What’s worse is that the incompetent folks at the WA Wine Institute know this, yet they claim the contrary. That’s called deception.

  7. Jon Dough - May 11, 2011

    I am a Washington State resident. I buy virtually all of my wine from out-of-state retailers. I will continue to do so as long as the prohibition-era laws enable a wholesaler monopoly and support prices that are not close to being competitive. (Different issue, I know, but more evidence of consumer unfriendliness.)

  8. Thomas Pellechia - May 11, 2011

    I do not concede the point on “niggardly,” which is about spending money–or not spending it…
    As for the contents of your post, is there any sort of connection or working relationship between the Wa. Wine Institute and the wholesalers or WSWA?
    Maybe this is something the WI members need to dig into.

  9. Tom Wark - May 11, 2011

    I’m unaware of any working relationship between the Washington Wine Institute, their Executive Director Jean Leonard and the wholesalers…other than they both have a pretty significant disrespect and care-not attitude for Washington wine lovers and free markets.

  10. Bryan Maletis - May 11, 2011

    Hi Tom,
    Your post just hit me like a punch from the old Tyson. But before I react like a crazy man and drive down to Olympia, are you sure everything you posted is correct? If so, it has taken me completely by surprise.
    I am a licensed WA wine retailer, and I legally ship grower Champagne direct to consumer to many states, including WA. I opened in January of 2011 and all of the legal advice I have received to date said that I was in the clear.
    Can you send me a copy of the email you are referring to? Is there any WA State documentation that you can point me towards, so that I can try to interpret it myself?
    I would really appreciate your help and follow-up. If this is indeed the case, I am royally screwed. My wife and I spent our savings to start a business bringing grower Champagne direct to the consumer. We are starting the American dream and providing customers with something they want, all the while complying with all taxes and license requirements. Isn’t this what our country is about? Job creation is a huge deal for the economy and we are doing our part to make it happen (just hired two UW interns). So, I ask for your help.
    Please send me the relevant material before I bust my ass down to Olympia.
    Thank you very much,
    Bryan Maletis

  11. Tom Wark - May 11, 2011

    WA Wine Guy,

  12. John Bell - May 12, 2011

    Tom, many thanks for bringing this subject out into the light of day in such a forceful manner for examination by industry members and consumers. It’s been hidden in the dark for far too long. Hopefully, healthy dialog on this and other related wine industry issues, and resulting modernization of our state’s antiquated liquor laws, will result in better choice for consumers as well as a more healthy industry for those of us who labor in it. Keep shining that spotlight into all the dark crevasses you can find!

  13. Michael Teer - May 12, 2011

    I too am a retailer in Seattle and it is clearly illegal for us to ship to many states. It is not necessarily our laws but the laws of the state you are shipping to. Not to say shipping doesn’t go on but …

  14. Wade Wolfe - May 12, 2011

    You all should get your facts straight. Washington State, with the strong support of the Wine Institute, was one of the first states to adopt not only winery direct to consumer shipping but also winery direct to retailer shipping by out of state wineries. This was adopted so that we could maintain in state direct to consumer and retailer shipping. The Wine Institute continues to support this law.

  15. Tom Wark - May 12, 2011

    So, why would the WA Wine Institute oppose a law that allows consumers to have wine shipped to them from retailers if they are so great?

  16. Tom Wark - May 12, 2011

    But why didn’t the WA wine institute support consumer rights to have wine shipped to them from retailers? They opposed it. That’s shameful.

  17. Thomas Pellechia - May 13, 2011

    Don’t know why you told me to get my facts straight. I have not made a claim to “facts.” I explicitly stated a speculative opinion.
    You can tell the difference between a statement of fact and a speculative opinion by these three words at the beginning of my paragraph: “Seems to me…”
    In any case, as Tom points out with his questions, that you haven’t answered, your response does not address the subject of Tom’s original post.

  18. Bryan Maletis - May 13, 2011

    Hi Michael, Thank you for your response.
    I respect your store greatly and the work you have done to help showcase the wonderful world of grower Champagne to the Seattle market. I am aware that the states we can ship to are limited, but I never thought it was illegal to ship to residents in our own state! They can buy right out of our stores in person, so it seems silly that we can’t ship it to them. I know others do it anyway, but I want to start a business the right way, something that can grow without the worry of it being taken away. We are creating jobs in WA and providing the consumer with something that they want.
    I look forward to working together, with you and the FWWS, and doing my part to help our state see its crazy technicalities straightened out so we can get on with trying to run successful businesses.
    Thanks, Bryan

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