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Wine Lessons Learned from the Tea Party and the TSA

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  That’s the consumer rights lesson I’ve learned this year, and bar none, the wine-related hot button issue potentially affecting consumers this same year has been HR 5034, a part of the wine niche headlines since April.  Yet, a consumer-led backlash AND HR 5034 haven’t exactly been two predicates sharing the same subject.  I’ve learned the backlash lesson elsewhere … and it’s a lesson all wine lovers would do well to learn, as well.

HR 5034 is a well-chronicled would-be affront to consumer access to wine, as prepared by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, in a lobbying function, before being introduced into the House of Representatives as a bill for consideration as law.

HR 5034, for all intents and purposes, is an attempted circumnavigation of federal law (including Granholm vs. Heald, the landmark 2005 Supreme Court decision that prohibited out-of-state wine shipping discrimination against wineries while granting them the same consumer access liberties afforded to in-state wineries). 

In essence, HR 5034 would significantly restrict (or eliminate) consumer access to wines in their state for anything that wasn’t provided directly through a distributor (a lawyer by day, see Palate Press Publisher David Honig’s, excellent breakdown of the legal context for HR 5034).  Temporarily shelved with the recent November elections after initial hearings in late September, it’s expected that the bill (and proposed law) will be re-constituted (no pun intended) in January for additional review by the House Judiciary Committee.

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With small ripples of consumer opposition, the net-net of HR 5034 is this: 

Is the will of the people stronger than the will of special interest lobbying group’s intent on protecting and expanding their financial interests? 

It’s an interesting question because our rule of land – democracy—is by any theoretical measure, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Does HR 5034 follow this most basic of US principle? 

Not so much.

A funny thing learned while observing HR 5034 over the last seven months: 

Its introduction into the US House highlights how ill-prepared consumers are in understanding the nuances of our government and how we can affect change that reflects democracy’s fundamental premise. 

Our media absolutely has to assist in publicly fomenting consumer opposition above and beyond core constituents of an issue.

With HR 5034, aside from the obvious wine-related coverage the story has received, the proposed bill measured just a blip on the national radar.  I never got a sense that a real consumer coalition was happening—that credible, legitimate, populace-based mindshare was fomenting.  Ditto that lack of mindshare as facilitated by the media.

Not that it wasn’t attempted.

Amongst many people, Tom Wark, Executive Director for the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, did fantastic job leading HR 5034 opposition, including being a pivotal leader in thought-leadership, the first person out of the gate to create both a central hub for consumer information as well as a Facebook Fan Page for interested consumers.  This activity led to pockets of media coverage.

Yet, those efforts notwithstanding, Wark also realized the need for a broad line consumer organization.  He is developing the American Wine Consumer Coalition to represent the views of wine drinkers across the country.  This is good, noble and something I wholeheartedly endorse and will support with my participation and my money.  Yet, there is still something missing … something missing related to, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

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In a year filled with political cacophony, tea partiers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) search related headlines, the missing bullet for a successful kill shot on HR 5034 is a publicly-led backlash with enough sensationalism to capture the media’s interest.

Consider:  Were it not for loosely organized rallies, costumes, and hand-lettered placards, the Tea Party would not (could not) have achieved the wide recognition they have received, fueled by the media.  This is, after all, a movement that is still without central leadership, or ideology.

Consider:  Were it not for national media making John Tyner of “If you touch my junk I’m going to have you arrested” fame there would not have been a media fueled “National Opt-Out Day” creating awareness for consumer rights against invasion of privacy at airport security checkpoints.

In addition, as an aside, without national media would we have “Black Friday,” the fledgling “Small Business Saturday” or “Cyber Monday?”

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This all leads me to my central point, underscored by the Japanese proverb, “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back an ass.”

In practical terms, we have the knowledge that HR 5034 is bad for consumers, but do we have the wisdom to do what is necessary to counteract it?

Do we have the wisdom to organize an event that is sensational in nature that will be picked up by mainstream media to carry the message to greater awareness?

My suggestion is the online wine community dumps all of these friggin’ Zinfandel, Pinot, Cabernet, and Champagne Days on Twitter and does something meaningful.

How about, “National I Want my Wine Shipping Rights Day”

It’s really not that hard to organize and the genius is all wine lovers can participate in willful disobedience.

You see, the real secret here in the wine shipping wars is there is no enforcement—its fear by intimidation by states and the feds based on winery and retailer licensure (and potential seizure). 

Yet, there are retailers (plenty of retailers) who ship across the country, door-to-door, and thumb their nose at the TTB and state governing bodies. 

To wit, here’s the language on the shipping page from one prominent east coast retailer who places ALL of the shipping risk on the consumer:

”-Company Name Redacted- does not, as a business, ship wine outside of New York State. We are happy, however, to coordinate shipment of your wine, by you, to any location in the U.S. or abroad (for international shipping, see below). By authorizing shipment of your wine, you are allowing -Company Name Redacted- to engage a third party common carrier on your behalf. We provide all shipping coordination as a free service and do not profit from any shipping arrangements we make for you. Insurance (for breakage only) will be added to ALL shipments at an additional charge unless you assume all responsibility for breakage during shipment.”

What a beautiful dodge! 

So, a mass coalition of consumers gets together and says, “I’m ordering wine on this day, having it shipped to me and I don’t give a damn what the laws say about it.”

Don’t tread on me; don’t touch my junk and stop messing with my ability to buy the wine that I want to buy from where I want to buy it!

Instead of making this a fight in the halls of government presided over by lobbyist money; let’s make this a fight in the streets based on the will of the people, amplified by media ready to exploit a cause.

Regardless of whether a “national” wine consumer backlash day ever happens for wine shipping, you understand my point – empowered people must assume power.  Until wine consumers rise up with broad mindshare, carry a stick, and demand logical action that serves the interests of the majority, we’ll always be subject to the whims of big money lobbyists protecting the few.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way ... because ... I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

Who is with me?

Photo credit / Associated Press / Licensed by WSJ



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (17) |


Comments

On 11/29, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

“Were it not for loosely organized rallies, costumes, and hand-lettered placards, the Tea Party would not (could not) have achieved the wide recognition they have received, fueled by the media.”

You don’t get the kind of full media coverage the “Tea Party” got without someone or some entity footing the bill. Powerful money interests such as the Koch brothers, Rupert and his faux news empire, and other behind-the-scenes financing fueled this “movement.” Dick Armey earns half a million dollars just to be a voice.

So, a nationwide rant against HR 5034 needs money behind it, especially since it isn’t exactly a household happening.

Maybe we need a Faustian bargain with the above money sources…everyone else seems to do it.

On 11/29, Jeff wrote:

Hi Thomas,

Good point.  But, the Tea Party started out grassroots before it was semi-organized by the Elephants to serve their gains.

At this point, in relation to HR 5034, we need the grassroots.  Money does exist, but it’s looking for a place to go—Wine Institute and the rest have lobbying cash to throw at it, if only there was a movement to get behind.

I’d take a Faustian bargain (nice reference, by the way) in a quid pro quo fashion.

Jeff

On 11/29, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Actually, Jeff, the money went looking for the Tea Party across the country but found that the many groups were small and ineffective.

So, the money people co-opted the name and the activities. The genius in having a lot of money thrown at an issue is that you can do two things:

1. Make people believe that you are sincere about the issue/s by spending so much money to make it look like grass roots.

2. Make people vote against their own interests by lying to them and creating straw man arguments.

These are the only ways to beat lobbyists at their own game because, frankly, grass roots is easily mowed into conformity. Always remember HL Mencken’s keen reflections of the American spirit.

HR 5034 will rise or fall based solely on how much money the voting politicians see in their vote. Simple rule applies. You can throw money at the issue, but it’s the campaign contributions that pull the strings.

On 11/29, Alan Baker wrote:

I’m with you Jeff. It needs to be a consumer driven movement. It’s pretty obvious why I oppose the bill - we’re out of business if we can’t ship wine to other states.

I think the “Don’t Tread On Me” angle is better than trying to get producers to ignore rules and ship wine places that can result in our licenses getting yanked. (that, I fear, would simply give the bill’s authors evidence the system doesn’t work)

Let’s find a way to let people share their frustration every time they come face to face with the foolish set of laws that make it impossible to buy the products they want.
I want my MTV!

And yes Thomas, I think we are being naive to think it can simply be a few of us with clever signs riling the masses but we can do a better job of letting people know who is pushing them around. It isn’t a faceless lobbyist, it is your local chamber of commerce. They are happy to help beer distributors since they are paying members and us out of state wineries are not.

Add to that the fact that the big wineries benefit from less competition in the distribution channel, and it’s a tough thing to find the deep pockets to fund a high-profile opposition.

However, count me in.

Alan - Cartograph Wines

On 11/29, Alan Baker wrote:

And I was serious about promising wine to the person who pens our mantra that can be invoked every time you get shut down trying to buy wine you want in your cellar.
ab

On 11/29, Marcy Gordon wrote:

Here are a few:

Keep the Juice Loose

Crush Grapes, Not Rights

Wine is Not a Crime

It’s Wine not Moonshine

Free the Grapes!

Let Feedom Ring in my Wine Glass

Don’t Drain My Rights to Wine

If the wine ships you must accquit!
It’s Wine Not OJ wink

Make Wine not Shipping Wars

Stomp out HR 5034

Okay i’m getting punchy—more later.

On 11/29, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Amen!  I am.

On 11/29, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

“Add to that the fact that the big wineries benefit from less competition in the distribution channel, and it’s a tough thing to find the deep pockets to fund a high-profile opposition.”

Alan,

That is a salient point.

I wonder if Tom Wark knows how much the big gun wineries throw in to prevent direct shipping—or are they doing it quietly?

On 11/29, Alan Baker wrote:

My guess is they are fine letting the wholesalers act rather than directly trying to affect our ability to ship but I’m not in the know.

ab

On 11/29, Nicholas Palumbo wrote:

I was looking for an angle to celebrate the repeal of prohibition on Dec. 5 in our tasting room. I think some literature on this for the tasters is a good addition to our plans. Thanks for the inspiration!

On 11/30, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

all our discomfiture, ranting, letter writing, phone calling will do zero amount of good toward freeing up the ability to ship wine wherever we want to have it shipped.
The fine ladies of the night, er, Washington, follow the money trail and will do f*%K-all about ANYTHING unless they see a way to benefit from it.

Expecting our fine elected officials to do the ‘right’ thing is a pipe dream.  I AM mad as hell, but if we can’t get Congress to enact basic, logical changes to budgeting issues; get the Supreme Court to revisit the Corporate money ruling in politics changed; get negotiators to sit down and decide that they will find solutions to limiting pollutants which cause harm and affect the entire world, how can we expect to find a way to get wine shipping freed up?

The large wholesalers wrote the rules after Prohibition and continue to spend millions to protect their vested interests, all the time decrying the control the ‘State’ exercises over them: they will continue to play both sides of the fence with logical sounding arguments which will win the press’ attention and the politicians backing.

We, as consumers, have slim to little chance to effect the necessary changes.

I’m not throwing in the towel, but I am looking for that ONE politician who will effectively promote, act and vote our desired changes.  Unfortunately, in the pit of snake oil charmers called Washington, or any other State capital for that matter, I’m afraid the snakes will have their day and overcome the small voice of reason that might be able to speak the necessary truths our country so desperately needs.

There is light at the end of the tunnel: I just pray it is NOT the headlight on the train that will run us all over….

On 11/30, Tom Wark wrote:

Alan,

I’m unaware of any large or small wineries that actively work to stop direct shipping. Most large wineries also produce small production wines that they sell to their wine clubs (yes, they have them) and in their tasting rooms and that often get shipped back home.

As for the fight for consumer access to wine and the wine marketplace, that battle almost always takes place in the states, not in Washington. HR 5034 is an anomaly in that regard.

And, if consumers banded together they INDEED COULD make a difference. Stay tuned…

On 11/30, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

HR 5034 should be defeated and burried. Please count me in.

On 12/03, El Jefe wrote:

Count me in too. Considering that as a participating shipper I will be collecting dollars from orders on The Day, I will pledge all profits from The Day to the AWCC and/or Stop HR5034 campaigns.

Now we just need to pick a day?

On 12/01, promotional pen wrote:

Horton and Newberry has been the UK’s leading supplier of Promotional Gifts and Business Gifts . With 1000’s of products to choose from to help you promote your brand including printed pens, promotional mugs , conference bags and many more promo gifts. Call 020 8989 1025 for an instant quote.

On 03/26, TN Pas Cher wrote:

SDRGDRG

On 07/29, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

You don’t need an MBA NC degree to see that they want to put their own locket on this winery, but that’s not going to happen, not on my watch. I’m working in media and I’ve already started an investigation regarding this matter. I hate it when people try to intimidate us through legal mambo jumbo.


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