Unfortunately, only a few measly percentage points of total wine production has such idyllic origins. The vast majority of wines produced are soulless industrial products, which are appropriately sold and marketed by an equally heartless industrial system of distributors. This is the middle tier of the so called “three tier system. The executives of companies that mass produce these industrial wines and those that mass distribute them move from beverage industry to beverage industry seamlessly. It doesn’t matter if they’re producing or selling Coke, Rock Star, Budweiser, Gatorade or Rutherford Hill (all companies that they slip in and out of as they move up the ladder): boxes are boxes and their job is to move them. They accomplish their mission with ruthless efficiency.
It is these cool predators that control the means by which wines go from winemaker to consumer no matter the size of the production or quality of the wine. The billions of dollars they generate selling vodka, rum, tequila and mass wine brands fund one of the dirtier lobby groups out there, the W.S.W.A. They take their millions and buy politicians who deliver them legislation that gives them market franchises not unlike your local cable company enjoys and you know how well that goes.
As you might imagine, the needs of small wine producers and fine wine consumers are buried under this mountain of sleaze and political corruption as their small voices are not likely to be heard by politicians being wined/boozed and dined in sky boxes at big time sporting events.
The 2005 Supreme Court ruling that would supposedly finally allow small producers to ship directly to consumers throughout the nation was met with a great celebration by wineries. However, what seemed a blessing soon turned into a nightmare as state after state enacted restrictive legislation that finally made the situation even worse than the bad system it replaced. Funded primarily by liquor profits, large distributors and mass liquor/wine companies have used their muscle to make it more difficult than ever for some tiny winery up in the hills of California, Washington, Oregon or other state to ship a few cases a year to a consumer that loves their wine, but would find it impossible to buy in their own market. Mind you they could care less about such wines and wouldn’t bother to ever sell them, but their paranoia drives them to seek total control. As hard as it seems to believe, producers making millions of cases of wine and marketing them through ultra-sophisticated marketing systems perceive some guy with 5 acres of pinot noir, an old tractor and some used tanks in a run down barn picking his grapes in the rain and cold as some kind of threat that must be crushed.
Through all of this mess there has been only one clear voice out here trying to protect the interests of consumers and small producers. That voice belongs to Tom Wark, who exposes these issues through his blog Fermentation and as director of The Speciality Wine Retailers Association. Anyone craving access to the wines of small, passionate winemakers should visit these sites and sign up for the SWRA newsletter. Like the muckraking journalists of the past, Wark is exposing the political corruption and under the table money that is preventing you from buying the wines you want without having to wait for some distributor decide for you what you should be drinking.
Fine wine and food may be Mother Nature’s sons and daughters, but there is nothing about the system that gets wines from producer to the consumer that’s natural.