Questioning the Silence of the Wine Consumer

silenceEvery now and then, someone asks the right question.

Yesterday, the right question was asked by Frank Cagle in the context of the political battle in Tennessee over whether or not to allow wine in grocery stores. Frank asked:

“Why Won’t Legislators Listen to Constituents Instead of Liquor Lobbyists?”

There is a good answer to that question: They don’t have a voice.

It doesn’t matter what the question is. Winery Shipping. Wine Retailer Shipping. Wine in Grocery stores. Whenever these questions are asked, it’s the wineries, retailers, wholesalers and regulators that have the ear of lawmakers simply because there is no voice of the wine consumer. They have no representation.

And in those rare instances when consumers are asked what they want, such as in Washington where spirit sales were privatized by the vote of the citizens, you’ve got wholesalers claiming the process was manipulated, as though consumers are too stupid to understand the stakes.

No matter what they say, the institutional interests within the wine, beer and spirits industry don’t represent the interests of consumers. And they never will. When wineries seek to open states for direct shipping, it’s in the interests of wineries, not consumers. When retailers seek the same right to ship wine, its in the interests of retailer. When wholesalers try to stop all reforms to the archaic and anti-competitive three-tier system, it’s in the interests of wholesalers.

In Tennessee, the liquor trade has fought tooth and nail to assure consumers don’t get what they want. Now they are fighting to stop the possibility of even voting to determine if local areas and cities can vote to have local grocery stores sell wine. It’s a farce that is still being played out because there is no loud, responsible and consistent voice of the wine consumer.

That silence needs to end.

7 Responses

  1. 1WineDude - January 31, 2013

    “They don’t have a voice” probably means that they either a) don’t have money and/or b) the legislators don’t yet feel that their jobs are threatened enough to stop kowtowing to the lobbyists and/or c) the myriad voices (and there are those) aren’t organized in enough of a meaningful way. YET!

  2. Tom Wark - January 31, 2013

    I’m not sure I agree with A. However you are right about B and C. Legislators are creatures of habit. They follow the trail of those who speak to them and support them. That’s not wine consumers.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - January 31, 2013


    Why don’t you agree with Joe’s A?

    It is lobbying money that counts more than anything. It would take quite an investment for consumers to raise enough money to compete with lobbyists, not to mention the organizing needs to send a contingent to legislative halls.

  4. Charlie Olken - January 31, 2013

    Thomas–It does not take a massive amount of money for grass roots organizations to become important voices. Sure, it helps, but look at the money that the NRA spent in this election and what they got back for it. The people spoke because the Obama camp was the best orgnaized presidential machine ever. Sure they had money to support some of that, but they also had more volunteers than the other guy by a large margin.

    I think Joe Roberts point C. is the operative answer here. I am guessing that the consumers would have cared if this had been a referendum instead of a closed book hearing.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - February 1, 2013


    I think all of Joe’s reasons are valid.

    Re, Obama and the election: getting elected is not the same thing as creating–and maintaining–legislation.

    We still have the best government that money can buy.

  6. Tom Wark - February 1, 2013


    It’s not that consumers don’t have the money to create a voice. It’s that they have not combined their money yet to purchase a voicebox.


  7. Charlie Olken - February 1, 2013

    Thomas and Tom–

    Money is the mother’s milk of politics. I cannot and would not deny that. But, the Obama campaigns (both of them) showed a pathway, and not a new one if you look at other people-based movements, for volunteer action and small contributions.

    I am not expert at this, but situations like the one Tom described in Tennessee, and mega-change in Pennsylvania are, in my humble and less than expert opinion, invitations to the development of topic-based consumer movements.

    I certainly hope so because the best government money can buy need not belong to narrow, industrial interests.

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