The Worst Things In Wine in 2021

I look back at 2021 and see a year of progress in the wine industry. Granted, this isn’t a difficult position to take if we are comparing this year to 2020. Still, 2021 looks like a year of recovery, and there were positive moves in the regulatory and legal spheres.

That said, I wouldn’t want to be accused of being a pollyanna. There are things going on in wine in 2021 that were not so great.

These are the worst things in wine in 2021.

Wholesalers
Don’t get me wrong. Wine is heavy and we need people to put boxes on trucks and to wheel those boxes into the places where wine is promoted, marketed and sold to consumers. Box movers are important. However, when we talk about wholesalers being among the worst things in the wine industry we aren’t talking about their logistics capabilities nor their employees’ muscular frames.

In 2021 America’s wholesalers opposed the U.S. postal service delivering wine, thereby visiting harm on consumers and the future of the U.S. postal service. Wholesalers opposed distillers and brewers shipping wine directly to consumers, thereby diminishing consumer choice and keeping consumers from enjoying products wholesalers don’t distribute. In 2021 wholesalers continued to use the courts to keep consumers from receiving wine shipments from retailers and in the process used unsubstantiated arguments that consumers’ health will be harmed if retailer wine shipments are allowed. And, in 2021 Wholesalers worked hard to criminalize the use of fulfillment houses, harming wineries and consumers in the process.

Wine Influencers
I’m talking about the vapid advertising vehicles native to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook that sell their followers to brands and in the process do the very least possible to disclose that their endorsements of wines are bought and paid for. It is the rarest of “influencers” that actually deliver up anything like substantial or useful information about wine.

Three-Tier System
While slowly dissolving, it isn’t dissolving as fast as it should. By “three-tier system” I mean those state laws that require retailers and restaurants to purchase their wine inventory from in-state wholesalers rather than allowing them to buy directly from alcohol producers inside and outside their state. The need to dismantle this antiquated and wholly unnecessary restriction on how wine comes to market is significant. Giving wholesalers the say in which wine comes to market not only diminishes the economic development and growth of the wine industry, it retards the growth of brands and limits what consumers can get their hands on. Equally important, it diminishes the ability of retailers to distinguish themselves from other retailers via a different and diverse offering of products. Finally, the continuation of the three-tier system provides wholesalers with outsized political power, which is used almost exclusively to diminish the success of producers and retailers. Its destruction must move more quickly.

The Cry of “Snobbery!”
Throughout 2021 there was a call by too many smart folks in the wine industry to do away with the “snobbery” they see in the industry. Some of this concern with snobbery emanating from the industry is the same thing it has always been: mistaking details and an interest in those details for snobbery. But some of these concerns were more based on class critiques of the industry; in a form of disgust that many wines’ prices are out of reach for many people. There is a decided turn against the “rich” in today’s culture and some wines being priced in the stratosphere fall prey to this cultural turn. We even saw some very smart people suggesting that wines ought not to be allowed (legally prevented) from being priced so high. What makes this move among the worst things in wine is that it is a decidedly anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, anti-personal freedom view of the world that most people would naturally be ashamed of voicing.

Understanding Wine Through a Racial Lens
As I think I’ve written elsewhere, there is absolutely no downside to greater ethnic diversity overtaking the wine industry. Moreover, working to recruit a more diverse industry is important. But among the worst things in the wine industry are the blatant claims and insinuations that the wine industry is systemically racist. To claim the industry is such can only really be given a basis by observing that minorities are underrepresented in the industry. But under or over-representation of a group within an industry can never be good evidence of systemic anything. Moreover, claiming this is so simplifies the question of representation, bigotry, racism, culture, history and America so completely as to be embarrassing. It is equally embarrassing to see claims that one’s ethnicity can provide a person with a unique insight into the details of a terroir or the history of a wine region or the character or substance of a given wine or groups of wine. Neither a white, black nor brown person has any advantage in describing a 1990 Champagne due to their ethnicity. Yet, both these kinds of claims and associated insinuations are prevalent in the wine industry.


14 Responses

  1. rh+drexel - December 30, 2021

    Tom,
    I disagree with yiu often, and especially regarding some of your points above, but there is no mistaking that you are very committed to the world of wine, and for that I commend you. I personally enjoy passionate people, even if we often disagree and look forward to reading you regularly into the new year.
    The best 2022 to you.

  2. Tom Wark - December 30, 2021

    RH…

    Some of my best friends disagree with me. We state our case, we argue, sometimes we call each other made up slurs, then we drink and smoke cigars and complain about all the kids on our lawn. You’re invited.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Alan Goldfarb - December 30, 2021

    Whatever it is, I’m against it. — Me & Groucho

  4. Chris - December 30, 2021

    Tom, I so enjoy your frank discussion that pulls no punches. I agree 110% wiàh everything you’ve written. Thqnks for saying the things that need to be voiced!

  5. Tom Wark - December 30, 2021

    Thank you, Chris. And Happy New Year! Thank you for reading.

  6. RH Drexel - December 30, 2021

    Tom,
    That actually sounds lovely. Wouldn’t that be fun if we could pull that off?

  7. Alan M Goldfarb - December 30, 2021

    Tom & RH: Seriously, let’s do this. We can call it “The Viscous Circle”, a play on the Algonguin Roundtable’s :The Viscious Circle”.

  8. Tom Wark - December 30, 2021

    Alan,

    If you can argue, yell and call your friends names, then sit and enjoy a glass of wine and hug them goodbye for now, well, then, it’s not really a friendship is it?

  9. Judy Parker - December 30, 2021

    Succinct and spot on, as always. Happy New Year, Tom – and looking forward to many more thoughtful posts from you next year.

  10. acv - December 30, 2021

    Wholly sponsored fluff pieces aren’t a positive trend? You don’t say.

    To stave off bad publicity corporations are buying into wokeism. The vacuousness of the job titles like “Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer” is a return to Jim Crow thinking that your worth is skin color deep.

    Snobbery is really a sleight of hand to hide a very anti-capitalist view of life that is Marxist at its core.

    The naïveté that you can identify someone’s moral worth by their economic standing is profoundly ignorant and it pushes the exploiter vs exploitive narrative for political gain

    And the courts need to readdress the question in “State interest”. The 10th amendment gives states all the powers not enumerated in the constitution. BUT the commerce clause IS enumerated.

    ….I see I missed a few articles this month…..looks like you wrote some good ones. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  11. VVP - December 31, 2021

    We oppose distillers and brewers shipping wine directly to consumers too. Why would they? 🙂

    Happy New Year, Tom!

  12. Jessyca Frederick - January 4, 2022

    Among all of the wine writers I read, I consistently find myself agreeing with you. There are many things broken in the wine business, but this piece really puts a bow on it. And you did it succinctly. Great work!

  13. Tom Wark - January 4, 2022

    Jessica,

    You are too kind. And I agree with you that the things that are broken are many. However, they are fixable. It’s the industry and the committed wine lovers who will do the fixing.

    Happy New Year.

  14. Dann Lewis - January 4, 2022

    I am in agreement with much that you said. However, I think a problem not disgust is the relationship between lawmakers and the alcohol industry so that we can change laws for decades.


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