Of Politics and the Wine Trade – Moving Texas Forward 7 Decades Later

Current reminiscing has brought to the fore conflicting thoughts, as remembrances of my early days in the vinous industry are being mentally compared to the struggles of late. The 1980s, a decade that witnessed this author as a literal lad, stumbling upon a career in the wine business as most others do – perhaps more as a way to keep me off the streets than as a predetermined career path – were a glorious time to be selling wine in north Texas. Those days preceded all that the industry as well as society witnesses today. No “dot com” revolution for wine had yet been invented, no one embarked upon a daily internet search for Chateau X or winery Y, and your local liquor store’s wine selection – limited as it was, in no small part due to the state wholesaler’s ineptitude – sufficed. If it was a great bottle of wine a “serious wine snob” was in search of, 5-star restaurant wine lists were often overrun with such treasures.

Politics – locally, nationally, and most certainly as they pertained to the beverage industry, which was paying my rent – entered not into my thinking back in the mid-1980s. I was not yet 20, was single, was barely learning the difference between Sonoma and Napa, and had yet to crack the first chapter of a single book by Hugh Johnson. The fact that Texas liquor distributors controlled in a monopolistic fashion the flow of the world’s finest wines to consumers in Texas – a plight suffered by consumers in most every other state in the nation as well – never entered my thoughts. I was in the business for the pleasure of the learning (and the drinking of the stuff offered its moments of hedonist appeal as well).

Then came that defining moment; that fork in the road we all hear about, which forever alters what was once just a hobby or casual “job”. Call it an epiphany, dub it that “ah-ha” awakening, it arrived for me sometime in 1991, during my brief employ in New Orleans for a wine company known as Martin Wine Cellar. Back in Texas, while certainly relishing in the exposure to the treasures as brought to America by importers the likes of Kermit Lynch and Vineyard Brands – wine properties with pedigrees established centuries past carrying family names such as Raveneau, Chevillon and Cailloux or Beaucastle, Mongeard-Mugneret, and Ponsot – I had not yet been exposed to the evils of the 3-tier system. And it would not be until my tenure at Martin’s that the light would go on.

Fast-forwarding to the late 1990s once again finds yours truly back in Texas, this time a sole proprietor. Travels across America and Europe, advances in career, the formation of a new partnership and, finally, the dissolving of same, all seemingly driving towards the inevitable – that dream come true – launching of the small business enterprise that would carry my birth-name, ultimately brought the traveling European-certified-sommelier home. And once back in Texas, I was determined to affect change! The 3-tiered system – and the corruption, price-gouging, monopolies, limited choices for consumers and un-Constitutionality it represented – was my target.

That was 1999. Today, 2011, twelve years later, a failed wine business behind me, shattered dreams and all that once buoyed me now adrift in a sea far, far away, an article has awakened my senses. This Article, written by Tom Wark, one of the wine industry’s most-respected journalists, reveals just how disturbing and anti-consumer the 3-tier system of wine distribution is (particularly here in Texas). Reading this article – as I hope everyone in the wine trade as well as Constitutional enthusiasts likewise will – has again convinced me that there MUST be consumers in this state of mine thoroughly disgusted with the status quo.

And knowing that there exists in Texas a permit, written by a forward-thinking, now-retired legislator – who once reached the upper echelon within the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission – that allows retail wine businesses to operate in Texas without the need for reliance upon (or use of) redundant, out-dated, monopolistic liquor wholesalers, I find myself once again determined to launch THE most pro-consumer wine company this state has yet witnessed. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Texas: it’s time to stop the insanity!

Tom Wark’s exposing article on Texas’s vinous ways: