Fight the Power

Hopefully you took my advice last month and consumed some local wine or even something from upstate New York (still pretty local). Supporting local wine is important, but supporting small, artisan wineries from other states is also important. As New Yorkers, we have the ability to buy wines directly from wineries throughout the country. Thirteen states do not allow their citizens such freedom. So who controls which wines get into our local wine stores and restaurants? Big wine and beer wholesalers who have enjoyed a government-supported monopoly for the last 77 years. The country’s largest distributor has about $7 billion in annual revenue, plenty of money to force legislation through our government to protect and expand their monopoly. This year, they were finally able to get the attention of enough Congressmen and get a new bill considered, HR 5034. This legislation could roll back the free trade of wine that most states have enjoyed since 2005 and make sure the last thirteen states continue to prohibit the free trade of wine.

Wine is a very individual and passionate product, produced commercially in batches ranging from a barrel (even half barrels and quarter barrels) to tanks that hold 100,000 liters of wine. It is also a natural product, one that can be made with very little intervention. Small, artisan wine producers making wine in small batches need every opportunity to get their products on shelves, but distributors are consolidating and shrinking inventories. This shrinks the breadth of wines available at local wine stores and restaurants.

One of my favorite things about wine is that it comes from vineyards and wineries that I can visit—places where someone has put all their efforts into building and creating. At last count, there were 6,590 wineries in the United States with more than 3,000 in California alone. Of these, less than a few hundred produce 93% of all the domestic wine consumed. That leaves 7% of the market to be shared between the remaining 6,000 or so producers in the United States. If you’re a winery from that 6,000 how do you get your wines to that market? We are spoiled here in New York, and are allowed to buy wine from other states and have it shipped in. Plus, New York is one of the capitals of wine and has one of the most diverse supplies in the world. Yet even here in New York, it is impossible to find even a fraction of the wines produced in California, Washington and Oregon. Due to the current laws, we can buy wine directly from any state and have it shipped to our house. This could change if Congress passes the legislation that protects the wine, beer and spirit wholesalers.

So fight this legislation and support small, artisan wineries every chance you get. I realize it is easy to buy the same brand of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, but take a chance once in a while and try a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio from Long Island, Oregon or Washington and support small winemakers.