Login Here
Saturday, 18 October 2008 20:00

Arrogance. It's hard to come up with a better word to describe the behavior of Wine.com.Wine.com logo

If you saw MichWine's top story, you know they've unilaterally and publicly decided to stick their thumb in the eye of Federal Judge Denise Page Hood and start shipping wine into Michigan.

The Wine.com folks aren't naive on the subject of shipping. Last holiday season, they ran a private "sting" operation against 29 online competitors they accused of breaking shipping laws -- and turned them in to state authorities. This vigilante behavior earned condemnation by both consumer wine writers and those in the industry. A number of people even called for a customer boycott against Wine.com.

Now they seem to have flipped 180 degrees, and decided their interests lie in becoming scofflaws themselves.

But their current approach -- much as I disagree with it -- stems from a legitimate frustration they share with Michigan consumers over the antiquated, protectionist laws that govern wine sales. Far more than Wine.com, those laws deserve our antipathy -- and efforts for change.

Why? Thanks to a Prohibition-era legal anachronism, in the year 2008 I can go online and legally purchase anything from a new car to bullets for a .357 Magnum --  but not a bottle of wine from a store in Illinois.

That's because Michigan's wine laws protect and enrich a single powerful group: the distribution monopoly known as the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association (MBWWA). This would be the same MBWWA whose members -- surprise! -- donate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the campaign chests and private PAC's of our state's politicians.

As MBWWA Executive Director Mike Lashbrook recently told the Wine Spectator, their attitude toward Michigan consumers boils down to this: We think our wine selection is pretty good. If we don't sell something, you don't need it -- and you shouldn't have a legal way to get it.

Yet Lashbrook whines in the same article that countless Michigan wine consumers simply ignore the law to order wines they can't find locally from out-of-state retailers. Retailers like Wine.com.

You gotta wonder if this poor guy feels any irony (or pain) straddling both sides of the fence simultaneously: We bring in all the wines that Michigan needs. And what about all those people whose actions prove otherwise? They're just a bunch of lawbreakers.

That rises to a level of arrogance -- no, let's call it hubris -- in a totally different league from the folks at Wine.com.

And it hurts our state. As during Prohibition, our failure to appropriately regulate and tax interstate wine shipment costs Michigan untold dollars in licensing fees and tax revenues that our state can't afford to lose. Not to mention the lost respect for a "public be damned" lawmaking process that created the current situation and leaves it in place.

Or, as the Grand Rapids Press editorialized last week:

What public purpose is being served by preventing adults from buying wine from their favorite wine retailer outside Michigan, provided they pay any required sales tax? The Internet, in particular, has made shopping across state and even national borders for all sorts of goods easier and more efficient. There is no reason to exclude wine from out-of-state retailers from the list of goods available to Michigan consumers.

Get MichWine Updates!

Need to Know


Early results from an experiment by Chateau Margaux's Paul Pontallier indicate that screwcaps may age red wine better than natural cork -- plus eliminate any risk of corked bottles, as reported in The Drinks Business. 


The 2011-2 mild weather was healthy for Michigan's vineyards, but it's played havoc with state winemakers who leave grapes on the vine in hopes that they'll freeze for the production of icewine, reports AP writer John Flesher.


Recently-deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was a wine geek (and reputed alcoholic) with a 10,000-bottle cellar, according to ex-Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Kim earlier gave up Hennessy Cognac on doctor's orders.


Warming climate may help cooler grape-growing regions -- like England -- but could damage places like Napa, writes jounalist John McQuaid in Yale's environmental magazine.


Western Farm Press reports that Cornell Prof Miguel Gomez is studying how smaller wineries can jointly create a successful cool-climate wine region. He'll look at emerging areas in Michigan, New York and Missouri.


Here's one for some Michigan entrepreneur to try! A just-opened Long Island outlet mall store will sell nothing but New York State wines. Starting inventory at Empire State Cellars: 400 labels from 150 wineries.


Want a refresher about Michigan wine history and potential? Get a quick two page cheat-sheet by Layne Cameron in Western Farm Press, and make some allowances for the MSU-centricity (the author's employer).

Links to wine news from Michigan and elsewhere. Use the Contact Form to let us know what should be here.


Recently-deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was a wine geek (and reputed alcoholic) with a 10,000-bottle cellar, according to ex-Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Kim earlier gave up Hennessy Cognac on doctor's orders.