a murky future for washington wineries

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I am still pondering… I will soon make a final decision on a recommendation for or against the WSLCB-busting initiative 1100, but it ain’t easy! My colleagues Sean Sullivan (www.wawinereport.com) and Mike Veseth (www.wineeconomist.com) have done extensive analysis on the issues and I strongly recommend reading their posts. Mike is still on the fence with 1100, concerned primarily with the impact on public health and safety problems. Sean has already come out opposed, apparently because of a strong dislike for the entire initiative system.

It looks as if 1105 is a non-starter, with diminishing chances for passage, which is fine with me. But 1100 has divided just about everyone in the industry, because no one knows what will really happen. For me it comes down to this – will consumers benefit? Will small wineries be hurt? The fact that 1100 is sponsored by “big business” (Costco) is not a negative in my view. Who else has the muscle to take on the entrenched bureaucracies and deep pocket special interests? I think that the ideal scenario would be for this state’s wineries to line up in solidarity either for or against, but they have not done so. To my knowledge, the Washington Wine Commission has not taken a stand either, though the Washington Wine Institute – its lobbying sibling – is opposed to both measures. That does not surprise me – it’s ‘the enemy you know is preferable to the enemy you don’t know’ philosophy.

If you have ever been to a store that offers a massive selection of booze, wine and food, such as Spec’s in Texas (“the largest selection of wines on the continent”), you can understand that it is quite compelling to imagine such outlets springing up here in Washington. They can be absolutely thrilling. What consumer would not love to have the opportunity to choose from the widest possible selection, at fair prices, and be served by knowledgeable, even passionate store personnel?! Would 1100 bring that to Washington? For me, the vote hinges right there. Your thoughts?

Upcoming Book Signings!

Heading into fall, I am going to be doing a lot of book signing events around the state. My book has already been singled out by Eric Asimov in his recent New York Times review of the season’s best new wine books. “For a more critical, in-depth look at the wine culture of Washington,” writes Asimov, “Paul Gregutt has updated his essential guide “Washington Wines and Wineries” (University of California Press, Oct. 2010). He… is an enthusiastic proponent of Washington’s wines, but he tempers his enthusiasm with a welcome dose of journalistic skepticism.”

I’ll be honest with you – this fall is prime time for wine book sales, and especially new wine books. I have been receiving wonderful support from wineries, tasting rooms, and others in the industry, who are working with me to create really fun events. For Full Pull, Paul Zitarelli opened the warehouse and invited Rob Newsom to pour some Boudreaux wines; Rob and I also got some live music in.

Last week I spoke and signed at a terrific Harvest Dinner at Januik/Novelty Hill. Over the weekend Mrs. G and I trekked up to Spokane, signed books at Arbor Crest on a glorious mid-autumn Sunday, visited and tasted at Nodland Cellars and Barrister, then signed dozens of books at the big Vehrs Holiday tasting.

Here are more book signings that are on the schedule. Often the books are offered at below list prices, and you also have the opportunity to get them signed and personalized. Think holiday gift giving! For any of these events, please contact the sponsoring winery for ticket prices and reservations.

On Friday October 29, from 4 to 7pm, DeLille Cellars is hosting a “Happy Hour Book Signing with Paul Gregutt”. Along with the chance to yak about wine, there will be excellent wines being poured, including the brand new, 2008 D2. The $40 ticket price ($30 for wine club members) includes a signed book, wine and appetizers. Contact the winery for reservations.

On Saturday October 30, from 11 to 2pm, I’ll be at Buty in Walla Walla. Along with books to buy, Caleb and Nina will be offering their newest Beast wines for tasting and purchase – a day ahead of the traditional Halloween debut. Come in costume!

The following weekend is traditionally a big fall release weekend in Walla Walla, and I’ll be covering a lot of ground. You’ll find me at Abeja on Friday 11/5 from noon to 3; then at Isenhower from 3 to 6. On Saturday 11/6 I’ll be downtown at Nicholas Cole from noon to 2; out at L’Ecole from 2:30 to 4:30, and at Northstar for a winemaker dinner from 5 o’clock on. Most of these events are open to the public but advance ticket and book purchases are always a good idea.

I hope to see many of you over the next few weeks. And if your favorite wine shop, tasting room or bookstore does not have the book in stock, please request it. Your support is absolutely essential and very much appreciated.



steven woody said...

It really makes it hard for consumers, when you do see some wineries against, and some for... I know I love going to Bevmo's in California. But I really do like my small local wineries in this state, and want them to have a chance as well. As you, I too am very on the fence with this bill.

Anonymous said...

Paul, hit the nail on the head! I believe the state and it's liqour board got us (or drove us) us to this vote. I have found the selection, knowlege and customer service to be so lacking at most State stores, that I can't wait for the state stores to close! Merlotman

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, I'm in the midst of getting a survey of Washington wineries together regarding their positions on Initiatives 1100 and 1105. I plan to reach out to all wineries with contact information listed on the WWC site - a tedious task if ever there were one. I'm hoping to do this in the next day or two and get the responses up on the blog next week. No idea what the response rate will be, especially given that it's the harvest season, but it's worth a shot. I definitely do feel that hearing from wineries large and small will be helpful.

Regarding the WWC's position, I checked in with them about this. They are prohibited by statue from taking a position on initiatives so will have to be silent on this one.

Most people believe that these initiatives are essentially about one thing - privatization. That is not the case. They are about a whole lot more. In fact, no one I have spoken with - and I mean no one - is against liquor privatization. Given this, it's a sad statement that the state has done nothing about it over the years. However, people who are opposed to these initiatives, and I do somewhat reluctantly include myself in this group, are concerned about how privatization is accomplished and what the financial consequences are for the state. Paramount as well is what the consequences might be for the state's many small producers. This last question is the hardest to untangle unfortunately which I think is why so many are split.

john said...

I lived in Houston for many years, and I agree that the prospect of a Spec's type store in Seattle is really exciting. A month ago on Wine Peeps we gave our analysis of these two initiatives and summarized by stating that we were leaning toward a "Yes" on I-1100 and a "NO" on I-1105. Being a pro-consumer blog, nothing we've learned since then has done anything but solidify that position.

Andy Plymale said...

I usually abstain from or vote no on initiatives, due to the "mob rule" aspect, but having just read the state voter's pamphlet, I think 1100 is a no-brainer "yes". (I have yet to read the 1105 info.)

The "for" argument in the pamphlet was co-written by winemaker, winery owner, and lawyer Paul Beveridge, by the way.

Unknown said...


I am for free markets. So yes on everything that removes "special status" for any business.

Jeff G said...


I think you summed it up best with this line: "it’s ‘the enemy you know is preferable to the enemy you don’t know’ philosophy".

I think the thing keeping most smaller wineries from supporting 1100 is the fear of unregulated competition with the larger wineries. One article i was reading mentioned a fear of not being able to get equal shelf space in retail stores cause suddenly they might have to pay for "good" shelf locations or for stores to even carry them at all. What's truly sad is they don't realize that it's really not that different from the current situation. The difference is that currently the distributors have the power. Retailers are really at the mercy of the distributors as to what wines they can carry on their shelves. If the distributor doesn't want to carry a wine, it's not even an option for retailers. Maybe i'm the only one that sees 1100 as win/win for both consumers and wineries because suddenly specialty wine shops (and mega-marts) would be able to buy direct from wineries and carry just about any wine their customers would request. And it gives wineries a whole new avenue to pursue with their direct marketing programs. Just my 2 cents.


Anonymous said...

I want to weigh in to say that it's important to vote NO on the 1100 initiative. It is a cynical use by Costco and friends of the legal code to pass by initiative what legal changes they were denied when they appealed to the WA State Supreme Court and Legislature. As faulty as they are, those government bodies are deliberative groups who have access to considerable legal education before voting on issues before them. The hundred words of an initiative are not information enough for voters about their proposals. Most well intentioned people, like Jeff, dont understand what's at work already let alone the changes proposed. In fact, Jeff, WA is rare in allowing (since 2009) any winery in the USA to get a distributor's license to directly sell to any store or restaurant in WA. WA already allows that "direct marketing avenue" we agree is needed. The internet and free shipping trumps all that anyway.

What's really at stake here is gross market control by the wealthiest distributors, stores etc. The question really is who do you trust? Do you trust the mysterious author of this initiative to make new laws built for their special interest, or the elected people who for the last 70 years have reworked the laws allowing for a wildly successful small farm wine industry to thrive in WA making some of the worlds greatest wines in the recent past under the current laws. Who do you favor? Shall we protect small family producers and vote NO or the big-bad Southern Wine and Spirits kind of types (and whoever wrote this law) and vote YES? Baiting you with Jim Beam in the grocery store, they rewrote the rest of the law to get everything else which would give them a unique market advantage over their competition, me.

Don't fool yourselves; there is no "free market" in America. Governments very structure is laws which bind producers, sellers and consumers with licenses, laws, equal opportunity employment and overtime, taxes and tax breaks. The only free market that exists is called the black market.

Please enjoy reading Initiative 1100 in its original at http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/text/i1100.pdf I have read it. As an English major and business owner, I don't like it.

As a small winery owner I voted NO against 1100. Please vote No with me. I am openly asking that you protect me and all my friends making great wines in WA.

Sincerely Caleb Foster
Buty Winery
Walla Walla

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