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Wine + Spirits + Beer

Sour Grapes


It will be no shock to learn that the mission of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America is to protect wholesalers, which in the wine and spirits business actually means distributors rather than producers. So it’s also no surprise that the organization’s president and CEO, Craig Wolf, is upset about recent bills seeking to make it easier for consumers to buy wine directly from wineries. One wine seller, Wine.com, which has gone to the effort and expense of acquiring retail licenses in many states, has also shown its displeasure with such legislation, and even conducted a sting to catch and report wine shops that ship across state lines without permits.

It’s probably true that the federal agency in charge of enforcing those regulations (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is underfunded and understaffed; then again, someone buying a small-production Pinot Noir probably poses less of a threat to the general welfare than, say, a massive E. coli outbreak. But Wolf doesn’t seem to grasp that distinction. In a recent press release from the WSWA he is quoted as saying, in response to Eric Asimov’s recent tongue-in-cheek confession in The New York Times to breaking wine laws:

“That a newspaper of record would publish such comments in the clear light of day, we believe, ought to trouble any regulator, lawmaker or law enforcement official.”

It’s hard to imagine even the most entrenched bureaucrat being so out of touch with reality. Wolf is entitled to rail against consumer choice, and he can pretend that his organization really, truly cares about keeping underage drinkers from buying wine over the Internet (when you were 17, did you plan a week ahead when you decided to have a drink? Were you willing to spend $20 to have FedEx deliver your $30 bottle of Paso Robles Syrah? Yeah, me neither). But is Wolf really saying Asimov should be prosecuted? That our officials should dedicate resources to pursuing Burgundy Hounds and Rhone Rangers?

Here’s what I’m thinking: If distributors were more receptive to representing and promoting small wineries, if the WSWA put a little of the money they’re spending on lobbying into helping small producers reach consumers, and if Craig Wolf would sit down with a couple of young, artisanal winemakers and have a glass of wine or two, maybe the world would be a better place. I’m not holding my breath.