Winebits 289: Terroir, three-tier, Wine.com
• Another view of terroir? Terroir, a French term that has no exact meaning in English, is something wine geeks love to argue about – does it exist or not? Those of us who believe in terroir believe it lends a sense of place to the best wine, regardless of price. Anti-terroir advocates (yes, just like matter and anti-matter) say we’re a bunch of old farts and that wine should be made to taste the best it can, regardless of terroir. The eminent Paul Lukacs offers a third view – that, despite some truth, it’s mostly a myth perpetuated by French marketers in the first third of the 20th century. That should give us something to discuss the next time Paul and I judge together.
• Another victory for the distributors: It’s depressing, but someone has to keep track of this stuff. The Illinois legislature, no doubt acting at the behest of some of its biggest campaign contributors, has passed a law that strengthens the state’s three-tier system. Three-tier are the alcohol regulations left over from Prohibition that prohibit consumers from buying wine almost anywhere but traditional retailers. The legislature passed the law because Anheuser-Busch bought a stake in its biggest Chicago-area distributor. The beer giant will now have to sell its share of the distributor. How silly is this? Like Ford being told by the Michigan legislature that it can’t own one of its parts suppliers.
• For sale or not? The cyber-ether has been buzzing the past week or so with rumors that Wine.com, the largest Internet wine retailer and a friend of the blog, is for sale. Wine.com’s boss has denied the rumors, saying the reports exaggerate the company’s financial woes. Supposedly, Wine.com’s private equity backer was unhappy with its performance and wanted out. Regular visitors here know the uphill battle legal Internet retailers face, thanks to three-tier, and Wine.com is no exception. It has to become a local retailer in many states in which it does business to comply with state laws, a costly and time-consuming effort. If its financial backers are unhappy, the question is not that they are, but why they expected anything else given the regulatory environment.