By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
Congress could soon decide whether consumers can buy wine directly from wineries, and legislation is moving more quickly than many industry observers anticipated.
A bipartisan bill (HR 5034) would give more power and control to states, which would strengthen the current three-tier system of distribution. The bill is championed by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), but it's opposed vehemently by winery owners across the country -- including some here in New York state.
In a statement released by WSWA, CEO Craig Wolf said, "America's regulated three-tier system is -- hands down -- the best beverage alcohol distribution system in the world."
In response, one New York state wine industry executive who asked not to be identified told me, "This is coming from the head of the most exclusive millionaire's club in America. There are fewer distributors in each state now, and that's not competition. The consumer gets hurt when we lose competition. And what happens when the largest distributors just swallow up the smaller ones? It starts to look more and more like a monopoly."
The New York Cork Report has spoken to numerous industry professionals, but due to the sensitive nature of their relationship with distributors, none wanted to comment on the record. We encourage open discussion in the comments section of this post, as it is a vitally important topic.
Retailers and other professionals are offering swift reactions to the bill. "Congress, backed by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America are looking to pass laws that will not allow you to purchase wines from retailers outside of your home state," wrote Daniel Posner, owner of Grapes The Wine Company, in an email to his customers (many of whom are outside of the company's New York home). "You do not even realize what is going on in your own backyard, but it is very bad."