Wine Wholesalers Have Taken A Trip To Crazy Town

After more than 25 years in the wine business, very little shocks me. However, I’m still flabbergasted when I witness a willingness among some to knowingly say the stupidest things. The wine wholesalers have been on a roll this week.

In an article in the New York Times investigating the circumstances concerning wine retailers being able to only ship wine to 14 states, the following was said by Craig Wolf, the head of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association…and it was said to a reporter.

“Craig Wolf…posed a nightmarish scenario of teenagers in New York ordering Thunderbird — the cheap, flavored fortified wine of skid rows and song — from retailers in Nevada.”
“Scenario” is probably the correct word to use here, in lieu of fantasy. The truth is that no member of law enforcement nor any alcohol regulator anywhere in the country has ever testified or reported that they have discovered a problem with minors ordering wine on the Internet and receiving it at home—Even Thunderbird.

“New York can’t hold Nevada accountable. Multiply that out by tens of thousands. There’s no jurisdiction for retailers at the federal level.”
I’ve met Craig Wolf and I can tell you he’s not terribly old. However, maybe he just looks young because his memory is failing him. He and his organization were the ones that lobbied the federal government to pass the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act—a law that allows attorneys general to sue out of state licensees in Federal Court if they break the law of the state—like illegally shipping Thunderbird to a minor. Getting old sucks!

“Mr. Wolf pivoted, pointing to several cases in Europe where people had died from drinking counterfeit spirits. The states, which have the power to license retailers, he asserted, keep them honest. Allowing retailers to sell out of state, he suggested, created a scenario for an unregulated system to run amok.”
And yet somehow, retailers have been shipping across state lines for more than 30 years and not once has death-inducing counterfeit wine been discovered to have been shipped by a retailer.

In a Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association press release in which the organization announced their opposition to allowing the U.S. Postal Service to deliver wine, Mr. Wolf let loose with these doozies:

“This bill would undermine the consumer protections built into America’s alcohol distribution system…The proposed USPS delivery of alcohol would undermine those systems and jeopardize the industry’s record of success and responsibility.”
Again, maybe it’s a matter of age creeping up on him, but nowhere in the proposed bill are any changes made to the American alcohol distribution system.

“USPS shipment of alcohol would essentially create a “black market” channel for counterfeit and potentially adulterated alcohol to reach American consumers, including minors.”
“Black Market Channel”? Who knew the U.S Postal Service was an illegal means of shipping. Amazon, Ebay, and Diapers.com are going to have something to say about this.

“USPS shipment of alcohol would also undermine state law and the long-established, long-upheld concept of primary state authority for the regulation of alcohol as provided by the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
No state laws would be changed under the U.S. Postal Service wine shipping bill. And the U.S. Constitution will likely survive the radical idea of the U.S. Postal Service delivering packages.

“The U.S. Postal Service runs billion dollar deficits each year. It should focus on addressing these systemic challenges and not pursue risky or ill-considered ventures that would provide minimal revenue while endangering the public.”
Holy Cow, you’d think the U.S. Postal Service were being given the power to experiment with black holes instead of simply shipping packages. The public will not get sucked into an ever-expanding black hole that eventually sucks up the earth if the Postal Service knocks on a door delivering a bottle of Harlan or Screaming Eagle.

As I mentioned, its shocking to me just how willing some people in the wine business are to make stupid statements. It’s Crazy Town over there at the wholesalers place.

However, these kinds of statements should confirm one thing. If you’ve ever thought that wholesalers get lawmakers to tip the scales in their favor due to their campaign contributions, these statements are proof positive of that. Because it sure isn’t the quality of their arguments.
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11 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Schneider - October 26, 2017

    Tom,

    First, I’ve got to say I am personally affected by this because I order wine from out of state all the time and so I’m EXTRA pissed off about this.

    Second, what can we, as consumers, do? It seems like the high court has already ruled on this and yet states are hamstringing the rights of consumers to by a legal product through these laws. It’s interstate commerce, which the Constitution says is the responsibility of the federal government over the states. I can’t understand why the retailers from around the country and consumers don’t file a giant suit against these protectionist nut jobs. They and their employees, and the large suppliers constantly talk about “growing the pie” and how making wine accessible to everyone floats all ships and then they restrict our ability to buy wine.

    I’m just fed up. There has to be some solution to this scourge in the industry. Any ideas?

    You should come on the podcast to talk about this (I promise I won’t lose my head, even though reading this makes me irate!).

    Elizabeth
    Wine for Normal People

    • Tom Wark - October 26, 2017

      Elizabeth,

      Thanks for asking the question about what consumers can do. First, you can continue to keep producing your podcast at Wine For Normal People.

      Second, the least consumers can do is stay in formed of what’s happening. The best way to do that is to sign up for alerts and news at http://www.winefreedom.org.

      As for retailers, there are currently two lawsuits in place challenging these kinds of protectionist and unconstitutional restrictions on retailer shipping. One in Michigan and the other in Illinois. A third will be filed in Missouri within days.

      Additionally, the National Association of Wine Retailers, which is supporting these lawsuits, also have bills in the MA and NY legislatures that would legalize retailer shipping into those states.

      The problem is that there are no other winery or retailer organizations that support retailers. The state wine retailer organizations support protectionist policies. Winery organizations you would think would support and help retailers since they are the ones selling their wines and the more outlets they have for wine sales the faster the wineries’ wines sell to consumers. However, state and regional organizations like the Wine Institute and the Napa Valley Vintners never get involved in the retailer shipping battles and Free the Grapes is supported by wineries and supports only winery shipping issues.

      The key is for consumers to take advantage of the forums where they can stay informed such as http://www.winefreedom.org and for folks like you to report on the issue.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Tom…

      • Dirty Wineglassguy - October 27, 2017

        Tom, you should totally do the WFNP podcast. This is the type of thing a greater population needs to understand.

  2. Napa Winemaker - October 26, 2017

    Awesome! Your closing thoughts was the best, love it!!

    However, these kinds of statements should confirm one thing. If you’ve ever thought that wholesalers get lawmakers to tip the scales in their favor due to their campaign contributions, these statements are proof positive of that. Because it sure isn’t the quality of their arguments.

  3. Jeff Swanson - October 26, 2017

    The incredible arrogance of the WSWA is blatant disregard for the freedom of the wine consumer to choose. The wholesalers are squeezing every last dime out of the wineries to feather their sodden nests. Rise up and demand your right to buy direct!

  4. Patricia - October 26, 2017

    Nicely written and the comments are apt. Thank you all.

    Wholesalers play their own game. No further comment.

  5. Robert Smith - October 27, 2017

    I assume (Ha!) that New York state is preventing their NY retailers from shipping out of state since they are preventing out of state retailers shipping into their state. The last I checked Zachys, Lehman, et al are all shipping to consumers in other states. Evidently what’s good for the goose…..

    • Daniel Posner - October 27, 2017

      Robert

      You should review the list of NYS retailers trying to pass a law that will allow NYS consumers to receive wine from out of state wine merchants. You will find both of the aforementioned retailers on the list that went to the NYS legislature.

      I am not sure why people must take such antagonistic approach to something that seems to right and fair. Merchants like Zachys and Sherry Lehmann just want to ship wine. They are not hypocrites and liars, like the wholesalers.

  6. David Nelson - October 27, 2017

    This article needs to be submitted to the major media outlets including the New York Times.
    We are all tired of large corporate entities using their lobbyists in Congress to support arcane laws dating back to Prohibition that take away our Constitutional freedoms.

  7. Jo Diaz - November 20, 2017

    You’re too funny! Yout title cracked me up – and you’re so right.


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