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MONDAY MANIFESTOS
02/04/2013
Monday Manifestos
The Voice of The People Will Hit You Like A Ton of Bricks

By Charles Olken

I grew up a long time ago. I was a child of the sixties. Of the Civil Rights and Ban The Bomb and Anti-Vietnam War movements. No, I was no hippy radical. I went to two fine schools, earned my multiple degrees in Economics and Business Administration. Joined the Army regardless of my belief that we did not belong in Vietnam. I was as a middle of the road as can be except that I believed in fairness, equality, peaceful protest, the rights of the people to be heard and that made me an activist of sorts.

Today, in wine, the voice of the consumer is heard loud and clear when it comes to the rise and fall of wineries and varieties. It was the consumer who made Chardonnay into the wine it has become. The wineries were certainly complicit, and who knows how long it might have taken if folks like Hanzell and Stony Hill had not given the grape a push.

But there is a major area of our vinous world in which the consumers are silent more often than not, and that is in the area of the whys and wherefores of wine distribution. We may speak collectively with our dollars in the wine retail markets, but when it comes to government action and the laws that govern what we can or cannot get, how we are allowed to interact with the market and who listens to the consumer, the sad answer is very often a big zero.

Yesterday, Tom Wark, whose brilliant blog, Fermentation, has paid great attention the issue of wine distribution and consumer rights published an article that hit me like a ton of bricks. How, in the 21st Century can legislatures anywhere consider laws governing the sale and distribution of wine and listen only to the industry without giving so much as a chance for the consumers to speak.

I strongly endorse Mr. Wark’s article and produce it here in full with his kind permission. It is time for the consumers to be heard everywhere. When they are heard, the laws will change to allow reasonable and well-managed access to wine. Please read on. It is time for action.

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“Every now and then, someone asks the right question.

“Yesterday, the right question was asked by Frank Cagle in the context of the political battle in Tennessee over whether or not to allow wine in grocery stores. Frank asked:

“Why Won’t Legislators Listen to Constituents Instead of Liquor Lobbyists?”

“There is a good answer to that question: They don’t have a voice.

“It doesn’t matter what the question is. Winery Shipping. Wine Retailer Shipping. Wine in Grocery stores. Whenever these questions are asked, it’s the wineries, retailers, wholesalers and regulators that have the ear of lawmakers simply because there is no voice of the wine consumer. They have no representation.

“And in those rare instances when consumers are asked what they want, such as in Washington where spirit sales were privatized by the vote of the citizens, you’ve got wholesalers claiming the process was manipulated, as though consumers are too stupid to understand the stakes.

“No matter what they say, the institutional interests within the wine, beer and spirits industry don’t represent the interests of consumers. And they never will. When wineries seek to open states for direct shipping, it’s in the interests of wineries, not consumers. When retailers seek the same right to ship wine, its in the interests of retailer. When wholesalers try to stop all reforms to the archaic and anti-competitive three-tier system, it’s in the interests of wholesalers.

“In Tennessee, the liquor trade has fought tooth and nail to assure consumers don’t get what they want. Now they are fighting to stop the possibility of even voting to determine if local areas and cities can vote to have local grocery stores sell wine. It’s a farce that is still being played out because there is no loud, responsible and consistent voice of the wine consumer.

“That silence needs to end.”


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