A highly intelligent friend of mine who has had a long career in the wine business in Texas sent me (and apparently a large number of “undisclosed recipients”) the following by email. I was at first surprised and then appalled and then driven to respond.
The Pitiful Selection of Wines Distributed in Texas
But consider this. In that same time period, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved 140,000 wines for sale in the United States…and those are just the imported wines the TTB approved in that 24 month period.
That means that there are more than 100,000 wines approved for sale in the United States in the past two years that consumers in Texas have absolutely no access to unless they are are able to buy and have shipped to them wines from out-of-state wine stores—the only places those 100,000 wines absents from the Texas market could possibly be found.
This situation put the lie to the claim often heard by opponents of wine shipments by out of state retailers that the three-tier system provides consumers with “unprecedented” choice. In fact, compared to what is available in the U.S. marketplace as a whole, the Texas three-tier system provides a nearly unprecedentedly pitiful choice of products.
I replied to him as follows:
1) In the first paragraph, they use the word “Majority.” “Majority” only means over 50%. They don’t specify how much over 50%. Is it 50.1%?
2) A great many any of those “approved labels” are actually duplicates because a particular producer (often with several wines) often has more than one US importer and each importer has to have a federal Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) for each wine. (How many COLAS exist for each chateau in Bordeaux? For many, more than a dozen and sometimes many more. How many COLAs exist for each Burgundy or Rhone producer making as many as 20 distinct wines who could have as many as 20 different regional importers in the US? Could be as many as 400.)
3) Many of those wines are “buyer’s-own-brands” (private labels) that are not ever going to go into general distribution. Most of these private label wines are either from virtual wineries or from left-over juice a legit producer has after they blend their own wines. This sort of left-over juice is often sourced, along with lower-tier juice from co-ops, to be blended by virtual wineries. And many of these labels are gimmicks such as “The Bachelor Fantasy Suite Cabernet” (currently sitting on my desk) that it might be a community service to keep out of the market.
4) Many of these COLAs are for extremely limited production wines that are never going to be sold in more than a few states. (For instance, if a Burgundy producer makes one barrel (25 cases) of something, they generally will not send more than four or five cases (if that) to the US and it will get spread around to those few markets their often boutique importer deals with and not to other markets. Texas does get its share of those sorts of wines but there are a lot we don’t see because the importer specializes in the east coast or California and the wines are and have been spoken for so there is no chance of additional distribution. There are also a fair number of wines that come to Texas that folks in California or Florida may not see.)
5) Many of these wines are “Me Too” wines (yet another Provencal Rosé or NZ Sauvignon Blanc, often from a virtual winery) that are the wine industry equivalent of throwing-shit-at-the-wall to see what sticks. Often label approvals are given that are used once or twice or sometimes not at all. A COLA does not mean the wine ever got imported and if it did, even one case requires a COLA.
There is nothing “pitiful” about the selection of well over 100,000 wines potentially available at retail in Texas.
(Where did I get that provocative number? If you pull up all the granted wine label approvals for Texas from January 1, 1997 to January 1, 2017, on the TABC on-line data-base, the number is 133,405. And many active labels in Texas go back further than that 20 years. In fairness, remember that many of these approved wines are duplicates in the same ways sited above for federal label approvals.)
And these out-of-state-retail-shipper-wannabes completely ignore how much wine is damaged-in-shipment (much more often cooked than broken) when shipped via FedEx or UPS (the two most common carriers) from state to state or even with-in states. And that in dealing with out-of-state retail shippers, Texas consumers have little recourse if something goes wrong.
Texas law prohibits only out-of-state retailers from shipping to consumers in Texas. There is a legal path for out-of-state wineries to ship to consumers in Texas. And they don’t tell you that many of these NAWR members (and others) are and have been breaking the law by shipping to consumers in Texas anyway.