Monday, January 17, 2011

Rant: Where Is All The Wine?

Craig Wolf, the President/CEO of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) recently claimed that there is no other consumable product that offers as much variety and selection as wine and spirits.  That certainly sounds great but it doesn't reflect the entire story, and the truth is rather depressing.

Paul Mabray, of Vintank, recently interviewed Mr. Wolf about "..HR 5034, the WSWA’s opinion about direct shipping and wine, and the exposure of an upcoming partnership between Shipcompliant and the WSWA."  It is well worth checking out the entire interview.  Mr. Wolf's answers were enlightening, both for what they said and what they didn't say.  But his boast about the plentiful variety of wines available struck me as a half-truth, and the more I considered that proposition, the more convinced I was that it was very misleading.

Yes, there are thousands of wines available at local wine stores. Mr. Wolf stated that Southern Wine and Spirits, the largest wine and spirits wholesaler in the US, may have 10,000-15,000 wine SKUs.  That sounds impressive, until you consider the larger picture.  And when you do, you'll realize that there is no other consumable product where we are denied such a large selection of products.  That is a direct consequence of the current three-tier system.

In the U.S., there are roughly 7000-8000 wineries, and most of them make multiple products.  So, it is probably safe to say, and maybe even a conservative estimate, that there are at least 45,000 different wines made in the U.S.  Which means that Southern, at best, only carries 1/3 of the available wines in the country, thus denying their customers access to 2/3 of the wines.  That sounds bad, but the situation is even worse because we haven't even considered all of the foreign wines.

How many wineries are there in the rest of the world?  Many thousands, and they produce hundreds of thousands of different wines.  So let us very conservatively estimate that there are 300,000 different wines worldwide.  That would mean Southern carries only 5% of the available wines, meaning consumers are denied access to 95% of the wines out there.  Would you be happy if there were 100 different cars available, yet you only had access to 5 of them?  If there any product you would be happy about if you could not access 95% of the available choices?

So Mr. Wolf should not be boasting about the great variety available when consumers cannot obtain a vast amount of the available wines.  The three-tier system is directly responsible for this disparity, and Mr.Wolf even admitted that it can be very difficult for wineries for obtain wholesalers because of the current system.    

Something needs to change, so we can get access to all of these wines which we are denied.  The current system denies us far more wines than it provides, so obviously the system has serious flaws.  Allowing wineries to direct ship to consumers and wine stores would be a major step forward to expanding the amount of wines we can access.

Mr. Wolf, don't boast about a system that denies us so much.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this!! It is the sane arguement that any winery in the world should be making. People do not pay to have wine shipped to them that they can get at home. Shipping wine is rediculously expensive because of the weight of the product and will add upwards of $3-6 per bottle depending on how quickly you need it. If the distributors either choose not to rep a brand or don't give it valuable face time in presentation then it can not exist and direct sales are the only opprotunity the product will have in surviving. And I wont even begin to address the highway robbery that is FOB.

Carrie Oliver said...

Interesting, professionally, I often look at wine with envy, given how many choices I see.* But your point is well-taken. The same can be said for beef. There are around 800K farms in North America raising dozens if not hundreds of different breeds and crossbreeds which, in different regions on different diets would naturally produce different flavors and textures. Yet all this variety walks up to the slaughterhouse door and comes out the other end as "Choice" or "Prime." It's a real shame.

* The exception is in controlled systems like Ontario's LCBO. They carry a very limited selection and charge a fortune for it.

1winedude said...


I believe when the state restricts your choice and offers you what it alone feels is best for you (and then makes you pay for the "privilege") it is often referred to as "Communism" but maybe I got that wrong...

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Anonymous for your comments, and I agree with your thoughts.

Thanks Carrie, and I was unaware that there were so many different varieties of beef that are unavailable. Seems the problem is more widespread than I thought.

Thanks Joe! There definitely is something rotten here.