"Chicken Little tells you that the sky is fallin'…"

by Katie Pizzuto on April 19, 2010

in Distributor,Regulations,Wine Shipping

For those of you who don’t read Wine Spectator (god I hope that’s most of you) and who can’t seem to manage to stay on top of every piece of legislation that passes through Washington’s corridors all by yourself, please, for the love of all that’s wine-soaked, familiarize yourself with HR 5034.

House Resolution 5034 is, without question, the most blatant attempt to railroad wine-drinking consumers (and beer as well), all in the name of America’s mind-numbingly idiotic, three-tiered, wholesaler-controlled distribution system. HR 5034 is about handing over complete control of the country’s beer/wine market to wholesalers. HR 5034 is about making sure that wholesalers get to decide which wines consumers can and can’t have access to. HR 5034 is about pissing on every small, boutique American winery out there until it starts pushing up daisies. HR 5034 is a fucking thorn in our side.

This bill not only negates the 2005 Supreme Court “Granholm” decision, basically allowing states to pass laws that will discriminate against out-of-state wine shippers, but it also mandates that the law cannot be challenged in court (and invalidated). It was introduced by Mr. Delahunt, Mr. Coble, Mr. Chaffetz, and Mr. Quigley, and while Delahunt gets no contributions from wholesalers, it’s no surprise that Coble’s #1 contributor is the National Beer Wholesalers Association, that Chaffetz got $5000 from the same group, and that Quigly got $6300 from a law firm that specialize in “legal aspects of the alcoholic beverage and hospitality industries.” In an effort to ensure a cut of every god damned bottle of wine bought and sold in the US, wholesalers are pushing for this bill with every bit of artillery they have, including the scare tactic that a law is needed to “prevent frivolous lawsuits and to allow states to maintain firm control of sales and prevent alcoholism and underage drinking.” Just so we’re clear—wholesalers apparently can help prevent alcoholism despite the fact that no medical miracle has ever managed to do so, and also despite the fact that they have no interaction at all with the end user. Brilliant.

If passed, HR 5034 will all but ensure the demise of hundreds of small wineries that get no representation from wholesalers, and whose main means of income is direct-to-consumer sales. It will cut consumers off from having access to thousands of wines that are unattainable if not bought directly from the winery. It will thumb its nose at both consumers and small wineries, stifling competition and free trade. And it will set any forward motion in this debate back into the dark ages. The only way many wineries can survive the industry’s fickle distribution system is by shipping their products direct to consumers, and vice versa the only way consumers can get their hands on most of the small-production wines in this country is via direct shipment of wine. If H.R. 5034 passes, it could be the beginning of the end of that symbiotic relationship in many states.

I know I’ve asked it a dozen times, but if you value your freedom of choice and a winery’s freedom of commerce, get off your ass. Contact winery associations and other industry associations and ask them to actively oppose HR 5034, contact your congressional representatives and ask them NOT to support HR 5034, and join the FACEBOOK PAGE “Stop HR5034”.

Some say this will never pass, and it very well may not, but I’m not one to rest on hopes. As Tom Wark wrote, “This kind of bill is unlikely to find much significant opposition or support from the citizens of the United States. It’s not a sexy bill that affects the majority of Americans. H.R. 5034 is the kind of bill that gets pushed and opposed by insiders and lobbyists without much attention from citizens and the media…Any consumer who relies on direct shipment of wine for their wine club wines or to purchase the huge number of wines they can’t find locally and who thinks this bill won’t pass simply because it’s so retrograde is sorely mistaken.”