The Wineries’ Betrayal of Consumers
Back in the day, from around the year 2,000 to 2010, wineries across the country understood perfectly that, given the chance, the wholesale tier would screw them, attempt to make their lives more difficult, attempt to push wineries into using only wholesalers to distribute their wines, work to stop any of their efforts to normalize direct to consumer shipping, and even accuse wineries of attempting to sell wine to minors.
Back in the day, the California Wine Institute, Free the Grapes (funded by wineries), The Coalition for Free Trade (Funded by Wineries, and winery associations across the country battled to put an end to discriminatory laws that they all claimed harmed consumers by preventing them from legally accessing and buying the wines they wanted.
Not so much today. In fact, today when wineries see wholesalers pushing anti-consumer laws, they tend to turn a blind eye or even support the effort.
Michigan is a perfect example.
As the Wine Spectator recently reported, Michigan passed a new law that allows Michigan wine retailers to ship wine directly to consumers, while banning those same consumers from purchasing wine from out-of-state retailers. The impact of this law is simple.
1) Michigan consumers may not have any imported wines shipped them from out-of-state since only wine retailers in the U.S. sell imported wines.
2) The vast majority of older vintage American wines may no longer be shipped to Michigan consumers since it is almost entirely American retailers that sell these wines.
3) It normalizes economic discrimination.
4) It harms American wineries’ best customers: Retailers
As this Michigan law was working it through the state’s legislature there was no opposition to its discriminatory nature voiced by the California Wine Institute, Free the Grapes or Michigan wineries. There was no testimony offered in opposition to the discrimination against retailers by the California Wine Institute, Free the Grapes or the Michigan Winery Association.
In the Wine Spectator article, Nancy Light, vice president of communications for the California Wine Institute said this: “Wine Institute did not support the bill’s limitation on retailer shipping.”
Nor did they oppose the “limitations” in the bill. At least they did not oppose them publicly. And without public opposition, there is no opposition. They were happy to see the bill pass with its anti-consumer, anti-retailer provisions. In fact, to again quote Ms. Light: “We are pleased with the inclusion of ‘fix-it’ language on [direct-to-consumer] labeling and invoicing issues that were problematic for wineries and that we had been negotiating separately with [Michigan Liquor Control Committee] staff.”
So much for the Wine Institute’s concern for consumers. But glad those invoicing issues are dealt with.
Meanwhile there is Free the Grapes. A search of the Free the Grapes website finds no information on the new Michigan law that restricts consumer access to wine. There were no alerts to the press about the law. No media advisories. All this inaction despite this missive on the Free the Grapes website:
“Free the Grapes! is a national grassroots coalition of wine lovers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers.”
The Michigan Wine Producers Association, which represents Michigan wineries, had this to say about the bill restricting consumers access to wine via their president Mike Beck:
“We support every legal aspect for people to have access to wine.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t support the effort to kill this bill nor to amend it when it might have been changed to allow consumers to have wine shipped to them from out-of-state retailers along with in-state retailers. Beck added:
“If everybody plays by the rules, then we see no downside.”
Unfortunately, the new law provides two sets of rules, but Beck and his organization had nothing to say about that.
The enabling of restrictions on consumer access to wine and the embrace of the wholesalers constant attempts to restrict consumer access to wine by wineries, their representatives, the California Wine Institute, Free the Grapes, and the Michigan Wine Producers Association doesn’t necessarily amount to a “war on retailers”. However, it most certainly amounts to a tight embrace on restrictions on consumer access to wine and the wholesalers ongoing effort to restrict consumer access to wine.
The law in Michigan will almost certainly be challenged in court. If all goes well, that coming lawsuit or another will find its way to the Supreme Court where we will learn if the Constitution protects retailers from discrimination just as it protects wineries from discrimination.
It will be fascinating to discover at that time if wineries, the Wine Institute and Free the Grapes decide the best course of action is to urge the Supreme Court to adopt the position that retailers can be constitutionally discriminated against. At this point, that’s where the wineries are heading with both their actions and inaction.
So much for their claims that they support consumer access to wine.