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Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 382: Liquor reform edition

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liquor reformOntario does its duty: The Canadian province has made major changes in the way it sells beer, wine, and spirits, something that seemed hard to believe in a province with the Canadian equivalent of state stores. Nevertheless, liquor reform has come, and it will soon be possible to buy beer in a grocery store, buy wine online, and sleect from more interesting win in the province. And pricing will become more consumer friendly, with provincial officials vowing to negotiate better deals with producers. “The days of monopoly are done,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne. Which raises the question: If Ontario can do this, and it has been called one of the last bastions of Prohibition, why do we have such trouble reforming liquor laws in the U.S.?

Even in Texas: Sort of, anyway. The Texas Legislature is discussing whether to allow Walmart, Costco, Kroger and other publicly-held companies to open liquor stores in the state. Currently, only privately-held companies can get a license to do that, and there is even a provision in the law that forbids people who aren’t related from owning more than five stores. The Lege, as the late Molly Ivins so fondly called it, probably won’t change the law this session, but there is momentum to allow grocery stores to own liquor stores and it could happen sooner rather than later. Why they need to own liquor stores, rather than selling liquor in their existing stores, is a story for another time.

But probably not in Pennsylvania: The blog has covered liquor reform in Pennsylvania almost since its inception, and nothing ever seems to happen. That has not stopped liquor stores in Delaware, which borders Pennsylvania, from holding panicked meetings to demand reform in Delaware in case Pennsylvania actually changes its state store system. The Wine Curmudgeon has some advice for Delaware: “Chill, dude.” The day Pennsylvania gets rid of state stores is the the day I write an homage to 15 percent chardonnay.

Winebits 381: Direct shipping, consolidation, Prosecco

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direct shippingLots of kinks to work out: Direct shipping, despite its successes over the past decade, is still a tiny part of the wine business, just single percentage points of the $17 billion in sales. One reason for that, of course, is three-tier, which makes it difficult for wineries to ship to consumers in different states. And three-tier has more to it than even those of us who think we know it can imagine; witness the lawyer suing Illinois wineries for not charging sales tax on shipping fees. This is perfectly legal in Illinois, where the law allows private attorneys to recover unpaid taxes on behalf of the state. Much of the coverage has been critical of the attorney, but that misses the point. Illinois law is vague on whether sales tax should be charged on shipping fees, so how how can direct shipping ever become more than a niche business if laws crucial to its success are as vague as the Illinois law? Because, given three-tier, this is certainly not the only vague, poorly written, or unclear law dealing with the subject.

Retailer buyout: Majestic Wine, one of the biggest retailers in the United Kingdom, has bought another British retailer, Naked Wine. This is bigger news than it seems, since Naked Wine has a trendy U.S. division that sells what can best be described as craft wine on-line at discounted prices to its members. It means that Majestic, facing tremendous competition from grocery stores, is trying to find wine that consumers can’t buy at grocery stores. Given the increasing importance of supermarket wine sales in the U.S., this may be a sign of things to come in this country (within the confines of three-tier) as retailers look for exclusive products to fend off grocery stores. It’s also another indication that retailers want to get bigger to fend of the Costcos, Walmarts, and Aldis of the world.

Nuts to Champagne: Prosecco has passed Champagne in sales at British grocery stores in news that is so shocking — given the British love affair with Champagne — that it should worry not only the Champagne business, but retailers around the world. If the British are buying Prosecco, the Italian bubbly that is at least half the price of Champagne, what does that means for retailers elsewhere? Has Champagne priced itself out of some markets? Do consumers prefer the softer, sweeter taste of Prosecco? Or are grocery stores playing a role in what’s going on? Even the story, from a British trade magazine, had a panicked tone.

 

The Wine Curmudgeon’s Lunch for Literary

literacy

literacy educationIn which I’m offering my services to raise money to benefit literacy education — because, if Robert Parker can do it, why can’t I?

Parker, the man who popularized the 100-point scoring system and was the most powerful person in wine for decades, is donating his knowledge, his time, and exclusive wines from his cellar to raise money for heart disease research. All it takes is $25,000 — which is well and good, but more than almost everyone in the world can afford.

Which is where I come in. I’ll donate my knowledge, my time, and $10 wines from my cellar.

All I need is a literacy group to take me up on this offer, and I’m willing to work with one in any part of the country. Literacy has long been one of my causes, not only because I write for a living, but because we can’t have a functioning democracy unless we can read and write. So pass this post along to a literacy group near you, and we will make this work.

We can do it the same way Parker is doing his, but charge less money to make it more accessible to the vast majority of wine drinkers. The idea would be to raise awareness as much as money, and what better way to do that than to teach people about the joy of cheap wine at a wine lunch (especially given my fondness for wine lunches)?

Frankly, raising money for literacy by introducing wine drinkers to Gascon whites, Sicilian reds, chenin blanc, cava, and all the other wines they’re not supposed to drink would be more fun than any curmudgeon is supposed to have.

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