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.
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.
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.
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.