On Wine

Consumer empowerment

2013-07-11T19:15:00Z Consumer empowerment Napa Valley Register
July 11, 2013 7:15 pm

Assume you are a Texas resident with a brother who lives in Massachusetts. He is a wine collector and you’d like to ship him a bottle of his favorite wine for his birthday.

Assume you are a Utah resident who just toured five wineries in Oregon, bought six bottles of wine and now want to ship them home to yourself.

Existing laws prohibit both activities. Some people say that such laws violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. They argue, “It’s my property, I can do what I want to with it.”

But not if it contains alcohol.

These same people say that literally dozens of other prohibitions regarding alcoholic beverage use and distribution are anti-consumer, even though there is no such problem with products like rubbing alcohol, cough syrup, and many other items that contain alcohol.

Laws governing shipping (and other unrelated laws) involving alcoholic beverages were dreamed up by lawmakers long ago. These people didn’t consult with those most affected by such laws: consumers.

In the 1930s, after The Great Experiment ended, most legislators still vividly recalled the terrible way in which the sale of alcoholic beverages had been ill-managed before Prohibition. And they knew how it was mismanaged during Prohibition.

As a result, laws were created that established a three-tier distribution system, creating a mandatory middle tier (wholesalers) that eliminated some of the inequities that had existed before 1919. Among other things, it eliminated the odious “tied house” practices in which a pub was required to purchase alcoholic beverages from a particular supplier.

Even though consumers pay for the entire three-tier system with their purchases, all laws were written with no input from consumers. And few of the laws have changed over the decades. Indeed, even when laws regarding the distribution of alcoholic beverages are being discussed today, consumers are never asked for their opinions on how such laws would affect them.

Shipping wine across state lines is one issue that has long been a sticking point for consumers, who have virtually no recourse. This means that our above scenarios of consumers facing nearly insurmountable odds of getting wine across state lines are commonplace.

Without a voice in the process, wine lovers are ignored, which usually means restrictive laws for no real reason other than to benefit a special sector of the wine distribution system — and often at an added cost to consumers.

Tom Wark saw all this years ago, and finally decided to do something about it. The Napa Valley wine blogger and public relations specialist recently launched a nonprofit organization that will give wine lovers a voice.

The American Wine Consumer Coalition aims to give consumers a unified forum so their voices can be heard on topics vital to them. Since wineries, wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants all have representation, shouldn’t the wine consumer also have a voice? Wark asked.

“Whenever regulators think about how consumers should have access to wine, they speak with wineries and wholesalers’ association, but never consumers — the people who would be directly affected by” rules changes, said Wark.

There are dozens of major issues that are of vital interest to consumers, such as wine sales in grocery stores; Sunday sales of wine (so-called Blue Laws); wine pricing and discounting; shipping wine across state lines; buying wine in one state and shipping it home to yourself in another.

The group’s website is WineConsumers.org. An annual membership is $35 per year, and Wark hopes he can challenge some of the worst laws to benefit consumers.

It would be the first time wine buyers had a seat at the table.

Wine of the Week: 2012 Banfi Pinot Grigio, Toscana (IGT), “Le Rime” ($10) — A combination of fresh floral aroma and faintly citrus-y blossomy notes, and a succulent entry, but the wine has good balancing acidity so it would work with light seafood dishes. But it’s best on a patio in hot weather. (The 2011 may still be available in some locations, and it’s nearly as good.)

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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