tail wags dog!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Yesterday’s Tri City Herald reported on two bills that just cleared the Washington state legislature and will become law on July 26th (http://www.tri-cityherald.com/915/story/596554.html). They untangle a few of the many twisted and tangled threads that have been ruining – oops, make that running – this state’s liquor laws since Prohibition.

Here’s the big news: wineries will soon be able to give away (to retailers only – not to you, Mr. and Mrs. greedy consumer) such promotional tchotchkes as branded coasters and corkscrews. Woo-hoo! And big news number two: the three legs of the three tiered system – producers, distributors and retailers – may now invest in each other. As L’Ecole’s Marty Clubb explains it, “if you marry someone who owns a restaurant, you can own a winery.”

Lest you worry, as do the big picture people at the Liquor Control Board, that such largesse might lead to a (gasp!) winery/restaurant opening up in your neighborhood, fear not. Such businesses must still operate as separate entities. That way the winery can’t exert undue influence on the restaurant wine list. Wow! My palate feels safer already.

Other good news: wineries can store their wines in more places! This is truly revolutionary stuff. If your winery is in Walla Walla, and you want to warehouse wines on Tiger Mountain (near the Seattle market), well now you can! One legal update that actually should impact the image and quality of this state’s wines is a bill that mandates that any wine labeled Washington state must be at least 95% from Washington state grapes. This is a higher standard than the feds require, believe it or not. Although I cannot think of anyone who has abused this in the past (I don’t doubt that it has happened), it does point up the increasing value and prominence of the Washington “brand.”

Before we all start doing the Snoopy dance, let’s look at what still can’t be done. You can’t legally have wine shipped to you from out of state retailers (other than wineries). You can’t legally ship wine yourself to anyone out of state. Retailers can’t get discounts on larger quantity purchases. Retailers can’t warehouse wines at a central location. Bars – such as a particularly excellent one in a small town I know – can’t be open four days a week during the off-season; they must stay open a fifth day, losing money and burning out the family-run staff, or they will lose their liquor license. There are no super shops, such as the fabulous Spec’s in Houston, that can offer a mind-boggling array of wines AND liquor AND food. I’m sure there is a reason for that, and I am delighted to be protected from some enterprise monopolizing my wine/gin/cheese and cracker dollar – but perhaps someone can tell me just what is the problem I am not having to face?

Meanwhile, let’s continue to push for the right to get those free corkscrews to consumers, where they belong!

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