Thursday, December 10, 2009


Often times, I find myself opening my mouth before I have actually given my brain a chance to process whatever information I am being bombarded with at the time. We all do it at one point or another; we react to a situation instead of responding more appropriately. When it comes to the wine business, a passionate individual finds him or herself reacting far more often that they should, and that can be quite problematic at times.

My biggest reactionary points have been, this past year: 1) As always, the 100-point rating scale, 2) the now TRIPLE-taxation on wine and spirits here in Kentucky, 3) Exclusivity agreements, 4) Interstate Shipping restrictions, and 5) winery line-extensions.

1) The 100-point rating scale that wine magazines such as Wine Spectator, Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, and others rely heavily on is that lecherous, skulking beast that breathes laboriously in the dark corner of the room. You know it’s there, you are never getting rid of it, so you reluctantly try to coexist. I don’t think anyone can ever prove to me that the 100-point system is a good thing now, despite what it has done for the industry. It is the overreliance on these scores that drive me crazy.

2) The Triple-Tax on Wine & Spirits in KY: Ah, here’s a new one. First, the excise tax, which I think has always existed. Wineries have to pony up this fee in order to sell their wares in the state. Second, the wholesale tax, which is paid at the wholesale level, to the state. And finally, added just this year, the 6% sales tax, which was begun April Fool’s Day this year. A brilliant move by a state whose tourism revenue is supported in part by all those Bourbon producers, as well as a wine industry that is still in its infancy, that is generated by only 25% of the state’s counties, yet spread across all 120 counties. Not very fair and just, but when did politicians ever care about being fair and just?

3) Exclusivity agreements never cease to amaze me. In the 21st Century, some importers still want to be dependent upon one retailer for an entire state. Granted, thanks to the brilliance of our Kentucky lawmakers, most wineries and importers cringe or scoff at the very thought of the Kentucky marketplace – they think we are a bunch of ignorant, uncultured hillbillies anyway, right? Yet in bridge store scenarios like Louisville and Northern Kentucky, where across the river, a particular item tied up in exclusivity is widely available, it adds to the frustration level that my #2 point continues to exacerbate. Maybe the nostalgia-maniacs at some of these import companies will decide that total market representation is better than, as the old adage warns of “putting all your eggs in one basket.”

4) Interstate Shipping restrictions: man, don’t get me started.

5) Winery Line-Extensions: In this economic climate, the continued process of expanding a lineup of wines by diluting what you have with wines you shouldn’t be making make me not want to do business with you at all. Rosenblum Chardonnay anyone?

Today has just been one of those days where I want to punch the first person I see. So better to sit in my tiny office, vent a bit, and think about something nice in this business, like standing atop the hillside at Red Willow Vineyard. Breathe in… breathe out.

The thing I need to constantly remind myself of in this business – because it is so easy to forget – is that I shouldn’t take things too seriously. Unfortunately, with the level of absurdity perpetrated in this industry by lawmakers, and the seriously bloated and archaic distribution system we in the U.S. contend with daily, I find myself ready to break off a boot in some poor sap’s ass – even though most people usually see me as an easy-going, mild-mannered sot.

Me and my big mouth.

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