Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I was reading the latest news that Altair, a big tobacco conglomerate has merged two of the biggest players in the tobacco industry – Marlboro and Skoal. Yee-haa! Now before you all get crazy, thinking I am all for big smoking, hold on – Altair actually owns Ste. Michelle and Estates, the big wine brokerage that pedals Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Snoqualmie, Erath and Antinori, just to name a few. With the big tobacco merger comes news that Altair is shopping around Ste. Michelle, which leaves me shaking in my boots.

I have been a huge fan of Ste. Michelle for some time – they are clearly making some of the best values in American wine right now. Selling this portfolio can only mean that it will be some big megacorporate wine broker like Constellation or Pernod picking them up, which means they most certainly will be moved to a less-desirable wholesaler here in KY (other states I am sure will share my pain).

Anymore, all I can do as a retailer is cross my fingers and hope for the best. A move to another distributor means dealing with a new set of idiosyncrasies and new bureaucracies, most of which I can live with, but there are those distributors out there that profess to be all about customer service, yet because they are big and vast and are in multiple markets, they adopt a “you’re-stuck-with-us-so-deal-with-it” attitude that really complicates doing business.

It’s a shady portion of the wine industry’s underbelly that no one really talks about – wholesaler-retailer conflict. It’s all just wait-and-see until the dust settles and the next big portfolio is in play.

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