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Tag Archives: three-tier system

Winebits 329: Legal affairs edition

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Winebits 329: Legal affairs editionBecause the Wine Curmudgeon is always amused by the legal side of the wine business:

Blame it on Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has first-hand experience with Utah’s liquor laws, thanks to a story I wrote about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But not even I was ready for this excellent piece of reporting by Nancy Lofholm in The Denver Post. How about eight different liquor licenses? Or that some establishments have to have a barrier between customers and the bartender, and that others don’t — even if they have the same license? But don’t worry too much. Says one Utah tourism official: “We are not the only state with peculiar liquor laws.”

Scores don’t matter: Or, did a New York judge tell a wine drinker that a high score can’t be the basis for suing about wine quality? There are many ways to interpret the decision, in which a Manhattan judge dismissed a lawsuit (requires free registration) in which a consumer wanted a refund from a wine store because he didn’t like the six bottles of 91-point wine he bought. The judge wrote that wine taste is subjective, and so can’t be the basis for a lawsuit. I know the wine in question, a decent enough bottle of Rioja, but one that’s probably not worth the $12.99 the consumer paid. Damn those scores anyway.

Questioning three-tier? Or so says this post from the Libation Law blog, analyzing a New Jersey court decision that said “New Jersey’s liquor control laws and regulations must be administered in the light of changing conditions.” Which, of course, is what those of us who want to reform the three-tier system have been saying for years: That a system put in place at the end of Prohibition to keep the mob out of liquor has outlived its reason for being. The decision, which dealt with distributors and how they paid commission, is esoteric, but Ashley Brandt at Libation is optimistic that it “strengthens the argument that a vigilant regulatory system can uncover and prohibit the practices that people claim the three-tiered system was meant to forestall.” The Wine Curmudgeon, with his vast legal experience (a semester of First Amendment law in college) isn’t quite so sure, but who am I to ruin a good mood?

Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakers

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Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakersThe wine notes that usually appear on Tuesday are posting today because tomorrow is April 1 — and that’s time for the blog’s annual April Fools’ Day post.

More screwed up than ever: Pennsylvania has been trying to reform its horribly messed up state store system — where the state owns the liquor stores — since as long as I have been writing the blog. Nothing has been done, despite widespread political and consumer support, and the latest proposal shows just how corrupt the system is. Supermarkets would be able to sell wine under the proposed law, but only four bottles per customer per visit. Nevertheless, a spirits trade group immediately denounced the plan, claiming that those four bottles would give the wine business an unfair advantage, since spirit sales would still be limited to state stores. It’s almost impossible to understand what’s going on here, other than to note that this is just another example of the many failings of the three-tier system.

Britain’s wine pricing: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak has an excellent account of the wine pricing controversy in Britain, where most retailers substantially discount wine. And then don’t. And then discount it again. This must seem odd to those of us in the U.S., where discounting is accepted as a normal part of doing business, and where savvy consumers are eager to buy wine when it’s on sale. But British consumer advocates see this as nefarious — “[T]hese fake promotions are bad for wine, and a bad deal for customers, and I won’t stop talking about them until supermarkets do the right thing and stop them,” writes Goode — and have spent the past couple of years fighting the biggest retailers over the practice.

You’ve come a long way, baby: Jordan Salcito at The Daily Beast has discovered that women have broken through the glass ceiling and are now important winemakers. I’ll try not to be too cranky about this, but Salcito is about a decade late with this revelation. I wrote the same story for the American Airlines in-flight magazine in 2006, quoting many of the same women she quotes in her story. She also focuses on celebrity women winemakers, and misses the more important change, that Big Wine did most of the glass ceiling work, hiring women where they had never been hired before. Barefoot’s Jennifer Wall is responsible for 13 million cases of wine a year, which may make her the most important woman winemaker in the business. And her boss is Gina Gallo, whose company makes 80 million cases a year. Also, if Salcito doesn’t mind some writing advice, never, ever use a phrase like “pushing the envelope.” I expect more from the Beast.

Winebits 324: WC favorites edition

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Winebits 324: WC favorites edition

Will empty tables force restaurants to change the way they approach wine?

Because the things that fascinate me about wine and that consumers need to know — and which rarely include toasty and oaky — keep making news:

Distributor clout, once again: When in doubt, they get out the checkbooks, reports an Ohio newspaper group. The state’s beer and wine wholesalers donated $146,000 to Buckeye state lawmakers around the time the Ohio legislature passed a bill — apparently, without anyone knowing — that made it illegal for the world’s biggest brewer to buy more distributorships in the state. In addition, said the story, “both Republicans and Democrats benefited from the wholesalers’ cash. And donations sometimes rose noticeably around the time a key vote was scheduled.” My favorite part of the article is the quote that says the distributors, who have a constitutionally-protected monopoly that all but guarantees them profits, were saving Ohioans from the nefarious actions of an evil multi-national beer company. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Restaurant sales still slow: The restaurant business continues to struggle, says this story from Nation’s Restaurant News, and no one is quite sure why. Is it the result of the worst winter in 40 years? Is it a hangover from the recession, which never really ended for all but the most high-end restaurants? Is it a fundamental shift in the way Americans eat? The restaurant business matters in wine, as regular visitors here know, because restaurants go out of their way to hurt wine. And the slump in restaurant sales, which has lasted more than five years, may force changes in the way restaurants deal with wine, which means better quality and lower prices. Or so some very smart analysts have told me.

The biggest wine companies: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist looks at disintermediation, an economic term that refers to the specialization of labor. In this case, it’s about the number of employees needed to to make a case of wine. Not surprisingly, the formula is not as simple as it sounds, and speaks to the way post-modern business works — outsourcing, contractors, and the like. Many of the biggest wine companies don’t own vineyards or even wineries; one company, Castle Rock, produced 550,000 cases with just nine employees. “With product chain disintermediation, the number of people actually employed by a winery can be surprisingly small with that tiny workforce specializing  in coordinating the various firms and contractors that make up the links in the chain,” wrote Veseth. What this means for consumers? Less expensive wine, of course, since disintermediation lowers the cost of production.

Image courtesy of Berenika, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license

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