Saturday, January 21, 2006

Legislation to permit self-distribution in Virginia.

There has been legislation introduced into this year's General Assembly, designed to address the distribution of wine by in-state wineries; a subject thrown into some turmoil by last year's Supreme Court decision requiring that states not discriminate between in-state and out-of-state wineries. This bill addresses the ability to small wineries to self-distribute their wines, directly to retailers and restaurants, without having to go through a distributor.

Self-distribution seems to be a win-win for all interested parties: Wineries get to make sales to retailers and restaurants without having to yield a portion of the proceeds to distributors, retailers and restaurants get to deal with those who are most interested in selling them the wines, and distributors don't have to concern themselves with low-volume, low-profit wineries.

So this legislation would allow wineries "small enough" to qualify for the federal small winery tax credit (27 CFR 24.278) to self-distribute. Yes, it's an arbitrary cut-off, but at least it's not one easily changed by the Virginia ABC regulators. And yes, I believe that all current Virginia wineries fall under that limit. But my guess is that this set-up would pass muster as being constitutional on its face.

I've heard from two wineries, asking that I contact my state senator and delegate in support of this legislation. That's fine, and a reasonable request. What bothers me about the requests, though, is that they both stray into Parade of Horribles territory, suggesting that some/many/most Virginia wineries will go out of business without the ability to self-distribute, and that some/many/most Virginia wines won't be available at retailers and restaurants. Well, baloney. I suppose that might be true if the legislation didn't pass and these wineries did nothing to find distributors. But I think that if the legislation isn't enacted, those wineries would find it in their best interest to go together and create an independent distributor whose main purpose was to distribute Virginia wines, and I'm sure they'd find support from the retailers and restaurants who would otherwise not have wines available for the customers who want them. Market forces will find a solution to this dilemma, even if the legislature does not.

My other concern with the requests was that they both urged me to use their cut-and-paste form letter to send to my representatives, without even considering that I could write my own. Knowing that elected representatives ignore obvious form letters, I'd think that asking us to send our own notes of support would have been the better approach.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Raise a glass to the Supremes.

Monday's Supreme Court ruling in the wine shipment cases was good news, at least in the limited context that the Court didn't uphold the status quo of different treatment for in-state and out-of-state wineries. But it wasn't great news.

Contrary to some of the reports I heard immediately after the ruling, it does not create an unfettered right to order wine on the internet or for wineries to ship wine anywhere in the country. It only requires that a state have consistent regulation for all wineries, whether in-state or out-of-state. Those states that already have a consistent set of rules - like Maryland, which prohibits all direct shipments to consumers - won't be affected, and states with inconsistent rules only need to make them consistent. Thus, in Michigan, one of the states that lost in yesterday's ruling, the state's alcohol regulatory commission wants the legislature to change the law and prohibit all sales that aren't face-to-face at retailers. (In Michigan, then, Monday's ruling was good news only in the short run, with the potential for being bad news in the long run.)

And the ruling is not going to do away with the "crazy quilt" of state regulation, as other reports indicated. A winery will still need to know all 50 states' shipping regulations in order to avoid sending their wines into states where such shipments are illegal, the same as today: An Oregon winery would need to know that it could ship direct to the consumer in North Carolina with no problem, that it is commmitting a felony if it ships direct to a consumer in Maryland, and that it needs to have a $65 annual license to ship direct to a consumer in Virginia. Still sounds like a crazy quilt to me.

Ultimately, though, I'm not sure it will make all that much difference, at least here in Virginia. Under the regulations in effect before yesterday's ruling, if you wanted to have a winery ship a bottle or a case direct to you, you already could - provided the winery had that $65 license for direct shipment. (And as a rule of thumb, a winery probably needs to sell 2 or 3 cases a year in Virginia to break even on that license fee.) So, if you wanted a bottle of the 2003 Cakebread Rubaiyat, which I've never seen available in a wine shop in Virginia, you were already permitted to do so. If you wanted a bottle of Zinfandel from the Hart Winery, you'd be out of luck.

I'm not sure that yesterday's ruling will change that situation much: Arguably, all wineries need some sort of license to ship within Virginia - the out-of-state ones need the $65 license, and the in-state wineries need their annual winery license (at a substantially higher fee). At most, Virginia might change to require an additional shipment license for all in-state wineries wanting to ship direct to a consumer. The end result would be the same, though: a winery without a shipping license won't be able to ship to a Virginia consumer.

Further, it probably won't make that much difference for the individual consumer. The cost of shipping a single bottle or case will add significantly to the price of the wine; enough so that you probably won't want to order direct from the winery all that often, and only for more expensive wines. You wouldn't buy a $10 California chardonnay and have it sent to you for an additional $8 or $10 very often when you could get a better one for $15 at your local wine shop.

It may make a bit more of a difference for the small or medium-sized winery, to be able to sell wine to an out-of-state customer who tasted it at the winery on a trip last year and now wants more. Probably not a lot of difference, at least to a winery that now sells out of its vintages at the winery, which will now sell a slightly larger portion through out-of-state shipments instead of immediate, face-to-face sales.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Wine tasting.

This weekend I conducted a 12-person winetasting for some friends, as a belated wedding present. They asked for “Virginia wines” with some additional limitations (not many Central Virginia wineries, as they’d done a lot of weekend wine touring this summer and wanted to try wines from other parts of the state).

The lineup I chose was:
Breaux Vineyards 2002 Madeleine Chardonnay
Chrysalis Vineyards 2002 Viognier
Jefferson Vineyards 2003 Johannesburg Riesling

Burnley Vineyards 2002 Rivanna Red
Am Rhein 2001 Cabernet Franc
Rappahannock Cellars 2002 Meritage

The hosts suggested to the other guests that they could bring their favorite Virginia wines, so we had four more wines, including a couple of head-to-head comparisons of the same varietal from different wineries.

Horton Viognier
Horton Cabernet Franc
Ingleside Chesapeake Claret (apparently a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Horton Pear Port

The Jefferson Riesling and Rappahannock Meritage were the crowd favorites.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The NY Times reviews India Pale Ales.

And does a fair job of it, although no better than fair. They give some history of India Pale Ales - accurate, to my knowledge - and then review some. Well, they claim to taste 21, but give reviews on only 10 (and the video review has even fewer). The top-rated ones were the Smuttynose Big A IPA, Stone IPA, and Dogfish Head's 90-minute Imperial IPA. Can't really disagree too much with those choices, but I think their methodology was suspect: they were missing Pacific Northwest IPAs - such as Bridgeport's IPA - and they included non-IPAs in their tasting (Imperial IPAs - IPAs on steroids - and Imperial pale ales, where "Imperial" in the style designation indicates a lot more barley in the mix, resulting in more flavor and about 2% more alcohol than is normal for the style). And they were missing standard East Coast IPAs, as well - I can understand their not having Cottonwood's Endo Pale Ale, but leaving Tupper's Hop Pocket Ale out of their tasting?

Friday, April 23, 2004

Instant winery.

Interesting in-depth article about "instant winemakers" - negociants - out on the West Coast. (One of the negociants they look at does Castle Rock wines, previously highlighted here.) People who buy excess wine, perhaps age it a bit more, and bottle it under their own label. And one thing I learned from the article is that the wine they buy often isn't just "excess" that the original winery couldn't sell - sometimes it's awfully good wine that didn't fit into the blend that the winery wanted to make that year, and it wasn't enough for them to bottle on their own. Or they've lost access to grapes that they've been putting into a single-vineyard bottling, and rather than continue to market a wine they know they can't make next year, they'll sell last year's wine to a negotiant, and move on to other wines.

Selling my own wine without having to be a farmer - perhaps this is what I'll do after I win the lottery.

Monday, April 19, 2004

2002 Cline California Ancient Vine Zinfandel.

I seem to be on a bit of a Cline kick, of late. This zinfandel is described as coming from a couple of vineyards, one planted in 1911 and one where the vines are 80 to 100 years old, in Lodi and Oakley respectively.

Young-looking medium strawberry/cherry red color. Aromas of ripe strawberry and blueberry; very intense, with a sweetness in the nose. Crisp yet intense fruit flavors, with a touch of black pepper at the finish. Good tannins, right at the edge of being overwhelmed by the fruit, but will be a better balance in perhaps six months.

I'd drink it by itself for now, as the vibrant fruit flavor cries out to be enjoyed on its own. When it ages some and the fruit isn't quite so bold, it'll go better with the usual zinfandel foods: grilled and barbecued meats, pastas, pizza.

The label says to drink now, or cellar for five to seven years. I'd agree that it's ready to go now, as a fresh, young, jammy wine, but I'd wonder how long it could really age. I'd be a bit more conservative, and suggest aging for no more than 5 years. But now really would be fine, too.

World Market, Richmond, $13.99 (the Cline website's suggested price is $18).

Saturday, March 13, 2004

2001 Allan Scott Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Refreshing little pinot noir, from New Zealand. I've long loved NZ sauvignon blancs, so I'm delighted to see some of their reds making to the East Coast. And there are some similarities: fresh, vibrant flavors explode in your mouth with with crisp (or even sharp) acidity. It's not as serious or portent-filled as an Oregon pinot noir, but it doesn't intend to be.

Light to medium shade of red - no mistaking it for a serious burgundy. Red cherry aromas with a hint of spice. Red cherry and strawberry flavors to knock you over. Medium finish. And if you're looking for the complex, earthy, mushroom flavors and aromas of higher-end pinot noirs, you'll be disappointed. But you shouldn't be looking for them here.

Great wine to drink by itself, for the sheer enjoyment of a young wine. Possibly with fruit, but I wouldn't pair it up with food for fear of missing out on the fruit in the wine. And for nine bucks? I can see drinking a lot of this out on the deck this spring.

Wine Warehouse, Charlottesville. $8.99.