August 28, 2013, by: Stephen George
Last week, news broke that the Indiana legislature has proposed amending its alcoholic beverage laws to allow Indiana wineries to sell their wines directly to local wine shops and restaurants. (Thanks to Tom Wark for first bringing this news item to our attention on his Fermentation wine blog.)
At this point you may be asking two questions:
1. There are wineries in Indiana? (Yes, just like each of the other 49 states.)
2. Indiana wineries can’t sell their own products to shops and restaurants? Why on earth not?
Good question. In Indiana, it is currently illegal for a winery to sell wine to a retailer. State law requires wineries to find a wholesaler who’s willing to buy the wine from the winery and then sell it to retailers – after taking a sizeable margin, of course. The result is that many local boutique wineries find themselves unable to place their wines in shops or restaurants, because very few wholesalers are interested in taking on small wineries with low quantities.
Seems strange, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s quite ordinary: Most states have a restriction like this in place. And in every instance, the main purpose of the system is to prop up the politically powerful wholesaler tier – the middlemen of the wine world – at the expense of producers, retailers and consumers (you know, those actually making, selling, buying and drinking the wine).
It’s pretty obvious why this arrangement is a bum deal for wineries and retailers, but what about consumers? After all, can’t Indiana residents simply buy wine directly from Indiana wineries?
They can, but here’s the rub: This law applies to out-of-state wineries too (as do almost all of the parallel laws in other states). And because in Indiana it’s also illegal for an out-of-state winery to ship wine directly to a consumer (unless the consumer first visits that winery in person), there’s no way for wine enthusiasts to get that limited-release Napa Cab they love so much unless a local wholesaler (who almost never deals directly with consumers) decides it wants to invest in a tiny parcel of those wines to carry in the Indiana market – unlikely at best.
When forced to publicly defend this system, wholesalers tend to fall back on several old and rather unpersuasive arguments. They make wild claims like “We wholesalers are the only ones protecting society from public inebriation and under-aged drinking!” and “Without these laws, we’d all be out of business, eliminating jobs and tanking the local economy!” and “It’s been this way for nearly a hundred years – here’s to a hundred more!”
It would be easy to cite data that strongly suggests that these arguments are nothing more than rhetorical cover for wholesalers’ true aim – to use the political system to maximize their own profits by ensuring that state laws force other companies to do business with them.
But that would be the easy way out. Instead, let’s take these arguments at face value and address them on the merits.
To do so, let’s pretend for a moment that out-of-state wineries were able to sell directly to Indiana retailers without wholesaler involvement. Here’s how that system would play out:
Let’s say I own a very small, high-end California winery, and Jane Doe of Indianapolis hears about our wines from an Illinois friend, or maybe she reads a favorable review in The Wine Advocate.
Let’s say she decides she wants to buy three bottles. Unfortunately for Jane, she cannot place an order with us directly, because Indiana law requires a consumer to visit an out-of-state winery in-person before getting any wine shipped to them.
Ok, so Jane then decides to swing by her favorite local retailer to ask them if they can bring it in for her. The retailer calls me and asks if we have Indiana distribution. We’re so small that we don’t, so he places an order for three bottles directly with me. We sell the three-pack to the retailer for $90 and ship it to them via FedEx, and the retailer sells it to Jane for $120. We make $90, the retailer makes $30, Jane gets her wine, and Indiana wholesalers come out the same.
Or maybe the retailer reads about my winery somewhere and knows he can hand-sell a couple of cases to clients who are looking for new Napa wineries to explore. So he contacts me to order 24 bottles, we make $720, he makes $240, and a dozen or more Indiana consumers get to enjoy a wine that’s otherwise unavailable to them.
Can someone make a principled argument as to why this shouldn’t be legal?
What about Constitutional constraints? This one’s easy. Unlike with federal legislation and jurisprudence, 21st Amendment considerations don’t apply here, because a sovereign state is free to make its system as open as it likes.
What about public safety? In the hearing on this subject held by the Indiana legislature last week, the Indiana wholesaler trade association actually asserted the highly dubious and wholly unsupported claim that wholesalers make it their business to ensure retailers are not inebriating customers or selling to the under-aged. Really? I’ve never known a wholesaler sales rep to make this task a priority – have you? State licensing systems hold retailers responsible for withholding alcohol from those who are drunk and under 21. Wholesalers have no obligations in this regard – and why should they since they don’t deal with consumers? The idea that they’re expending resources to serve as public guardians out of the goodness of their hearts doesn’t pass the laugh test.
What about keeping our wholesalers in business? This shouldn’t be a problem if, as wholesalers claim, they act as more than mere middlemen leaching profits from pre-existing revenue and instead add value to the distribution system. And the truth is that wholesalers DO add value – for those suppliers and retailers for whom they add value. Logistics, infrastructure, in-state warehousing, sales reps pounding the pavement – large wineries that need to move large quantities will still pay for those services. If you’re not sure about this, just look at states that have opened their system to allow self-distribution – wholesalers are still flourishing in these places. If anything, a little competition from other tiers only forces them to get better at their job.
But anyway, this is less a principled argument than a protectionist one. Most liberals and conservatives will agree that the government shouldn’t be in the business of making laws designed only to keep a select group of companies in business unless those companies are performing a crucial public service.
So why should we not create a level-playing field? Is it not fair and beneficial to permit wholesalers to continue working with those wineries they want to; to allow wineries without representation either to fulfill orders initiated by retailers or to try their hand at developing their own distribution; and to enable consumers to get wines they can’t otherwise?
We may argue about how much value wholesalers bring to the table, and for whom, and whether that matters when making laws. We may disagree about whether small wineries can successfully distribute their wines themselves. But I have yet to hear a compelling, principled argument about why Indiana — or any other state — shouldn’t open the market to let this play out equitably.
Continuing this protectionist, wholesaler-centered system hurts local shops, restaurants and wineries in- and out-of-state alike, while reducing consumer choice. But more importantly, it does a disservice to ordinary citizens who deserve to have their representatives pursuing their best interests, not the balance sheets of whichever companies spend the most on lobbying.
One concrete way you can help is to join a new organization designed to represent the interests of wine consumers. Surprisingly, no such entity existed prior to this year. Now, you can support the cause by supporting the American Wine Consumer Coalition – www.wineconsumers.org.
Most of all, we need everyone who cares about this issue to take action. Wherever you live, we encourage you to make your voice heard. Tell your legislators that you support freedom for wineries to sell to retailers and retailers to buy from wineries. Tell them that you’re in favor of enhancing choice and healthy competition. Tell them you don’t want your tax dollars spent on making and enforcing laws that serve only to line the pockets of interest groups.
And while you’re at it, tell them that consumers too should be able to buy directly from out-of-state wineries without all the red tape that makes it cost-prohibitive for so many small wineries. Believe it or not, if enough of us speak out, it will make a difference.
September 25, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
The new classification for Saint-Émilion was announced on Friday September 7th by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine). There were four wines promoted to the top level — Premier Grand Cru Classé – three of which are made by Stéphane Derenoncourt: Château Larcis Ducasse, Château Canon la Gaffelière and La Mondotte. As a result of this re-classification, Stéphane is responsible for seven out of the eighteen Premier Grand Cru Classé wines. This impressive achievement underscores why many – including we at Montesquieu Wines – believe that no one knows the Right Bank quite like Stéphane.
One of Stéphane’s most famous wines, La Mondotte, skipped the Grand Cru Classé category entirely, jumping from AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru to Premier Grand Cru Classé, which is a rare feat. For those familiar with the famous garagiste wines such as La Mondotte and Valandraud (also promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé), these promotions were well-deserved and not entirely unexpected. La Mondotte has been considered among the greatest Bordeaux chateaux for years, a collector’s gem and fetching prices that one would expect from the top level. View Full Post
July 25, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
Syrah is not known as a shy varietal. It is known for its strength, thick skin, and the ability to thrive almost anywhere, and as such is commonly referred to as the “growers varietal”. With this in mind, it is not surprising that Syrah has become increasingly popular, and is now estimated to be the seventh most widely planted varietal in the world.
Part of Syrah being adaptable to grow most anywhere yields the characteristic of producing wines that vary widely according to the climate, terroir and viticultural practices of the particular vineyard. It has been said that the varietal has experienced an “identity crisis” amongst consumers because of this wide variation, plus the unfortunate flooding of the market with generic Syrah with little character.
Additionally when Syrah in the United States was beginning to take off, many American critics were awarding their highest scores to very powerfully extracted wines, including Australian Shiraz with this over-the-top profile that was popular at the time. Many American Syrah producers, seeking approval of the critics, emulated this jammy, intense style.
Many feel what happened was the loss of character at higher ripeness levels which became more important than sense of place, or distinctiveness. Over time, with growers gaining more and more experience with various vineyard locations and climates, we have seen an emerging trend in the industry toward cool-climate Syrah. View Full Post
May 24, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
Memorial Day Red, White and Blue Fruit Cups photo from the Food Network
We’ve celebrated the Kentucky Derby, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, various graduation ceremonies—and now Memorial Day will wrap up this eventful month! We’d like to share some recipes and pairings that are fantastic for this popular BBQ holiday, as well as any other occasion you may have this summer where a great recipe and delicious wine to pair it with comes in handy.
Whether you are hosting the get-together or bringing a dish to one, these creations are easy to prepare, full of fresh seasonal flavors and each paired with a wine that complements the dish. Note: If you don’t have the exact Montesquieu wine, pair with a similar one taking into consideration varietal, region, style, etc.
No matter how you celebrate we at Montesquieu Winery wish you all a very Happy Memorial Day!
Starting Things Off To begin with we have the ever-popular and super-easy Caprese salad. For a fun summer twist this recipe is served on petite skewers, which make for a clever presentation and the skewers are easy to manage for casual al fresco dining.
A delicious pairing with this salad is the 2008 Amura Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This cool-climate Chilean charmer has just the right vibrant acidity with nectarine, citrus and pomelo to lift the flavors around the delicate cheese. An alternative would be other cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc such as Sancerre. View Full Post
April 21, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
Chinese Chicken Salad with Spicy Ginger Dressing by Giao Trac
Spring is in full swing—the perfect time to share some simple and delicious recipes, paired with some of our favorite Montesquieu wines. We hope you enjoy these spring-inspired delights, enjoy!
Chinese Chicken Salad with Spicy Ginger Dressing
Recipe adapted from original by Giao Trac of Kiss My Spatula
You may also substitute the chicken with grilled tofu, shrimp or any protein of your liking.
Chinese Chicken Salad
1 boneless chicken breast, skin removed
1 medium-sized Napa (or Savoy) cabbage, thinly sliced
2 carrots, shredded
1 small tomato, thinly sliced
1 mango, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 tbsp. roasted sesame seeds
handful of fresh mint, chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
handful of roasted peanuts
Spicy Ginger Dressing
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
To poach chicken, place the breast in a small saucepan and add water, about 1 inch above the chicken. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiled, immediately lower heat to a very slow simmer and partly cover for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to cook in hot water for another 15 minutes. Once cooled, shred chicken and set aside.
If you prefer grilling or barbecue, use boneless and skinless chicken thighs instead, lightly brushed with vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the spicy ginger dressing.
Add the cabbage, chicken, carrots, tomato, mint and cilantro to the large bowl and toss gently. Top with mango slices and roasted peanuts. Garnish with scallions and roasted sesame seeds, and serve immediately.
Pair with our 2009 Symmetria, a California blend of Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne or our 2009 Hammel Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley.
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April 12, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
Stéphane Derenoncourt immersed in tasting Cheval Blanc
Many believe that accomplished wine tasters are a rare breed with special abilities. However, wine tasting involves skills that contrary to popular belief are not difficult to master. Follow these five steps and in no time you will be tasting wine like a confident professional.
Before we get started it is important to point out that each experience varies as everyone’s taste buds are different—the array, type and how many you have. Thresholds and tolerances differ regarding sweetness, acidity, tannins and such, as well as our perceptions of what we are sensing based on our previous experiences and preferences.
A successful wine tasting provides the opportunity to focus on the wines at hand, which in other settings are often consumed quickly with many distractions. Pay close attention, as every wine tells a different story. Each experience is a building block, a sensory experience that will add to your collective foundation, giving depth and breadth to your journey. This is the joy of tasting wine! View Full Post
March 28, 2012, by: Stephen George
Our barrel room
Montesquieu Winery has long been committed not only to sourcing and crafting for our clients some of the finest wines in the world, but also to offering our clients a unique experience of the good life. In all that we do, we seek to champion the value of direct relationships and the joy of personal experience. After all, what else is great wine about?
It is with this in mind that we designed The Montesquieu Winemaking Experience. For the first time, we are offering our clients the opportunity to experience what it means to be a winemaker in Napa Valley. A limited number of clients will have an opportunity to purchase an entire barrel of our best 2010 wine (approximately 25 cases) to call their own – to name, brand, label and even blend in person in Napa with their broker under the guidance of our winemaker Hélène Mingot. View Full Post
March 22, 2012, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
DOC Vineyards along the Douro River
The Douro Valley in Portugal is rich in history, romance and stunning scenery, and is home to one of the most distinctive wines in the wine world—Port. This fortified wine is revered for its ability to age as well as having an unequaled range of flavor and style profiles, which makes Port a valuable addition to any well-rounded wine cellar. Every wine tells a story, and the story of Port is quite unique!
The History of Douro and Port
Declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, archaeological finds date winemaking in the Douro back to Roman times. However the development of fortified Port wine occurred during the second half of the 17th century. In 1678 Britain declared war on France and blockaded French ports, and in doing so created a wine shortage in England. In 1703 Britain and Portugal signed the Methuen Treaty that established the supply of cloth from England in exchange for Port wine, among other things. View Full Post