published Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

It's time to allow wine in Tennessee grocery stores

Many residents of the Chattanooga area are understandably flummoxed by Tennessee's silly wine laws. While wine is available in grocery stores in Georgia, picking up a bottle of cabernet in Tennessee requires a trip to the liquor store. At the same time, beer, which is generally blamed for more of society's alcohol-related woes than wine, has been available for decades in grocery stores throughout the Volunteer State to consumers of legal age.

So what gives? Why isn't wine already sold in Tennessee's grocery stores?

Decades ago the state government set up a wine distribution monopoly, allowing a very small number of people to make a very large amount of money -- and the greedy distributors benefiting from the system don't want that system to end.

State law dictates that wine must be sold in a package store. All of those liquor stores are divided into four regions: West, Middle, Southeast and Northeast Tennessee. Each brand of liquor and wine can only be sold to package stores in each region by one wholesaler. In other words, the company selling Kendall-Jackson wines in Southeast Tennessee is the only company allowed to sell Kendall-Jackson in the entire area. As a result, that company has a monopoly on the brand in the area and can charge whatever it wants.

This monopoly is extremely lucrative for the small handful of distributors allowed in each region. The racket is very costly for wine and liquor consumers, however, because the lack of competition means prices for alcohol are much higher than in other states.

Each year, grass-roots support builds among wine consumers who simply want the opportunity to purchase wine cheaper and more conveniently in a grocery store. But the alcohol barons, who have become filthy rich off the state's unfair scheme, always kill off attempts to create a fairer, freer system of wine sales by hiring lobbyists, paying off allies and pouring money into state lawmakers' campaign coffers.

In 2010, efforts to make wine available where beer is sold were met with half a million dollars in political contributions by the liquor wholesalers who benefit from the current system, according to TNReport.com, a state-government focused news website.


Tennessee's ridiculous wine laws aren't just an attack on consumer freedom. They actually kill jobs, hurt the economy and cost local governments millions of tax dollars.

The Volunteer State's restrictions on wine drove Costco officials to build the Chattanooga-area location of the wholesale store two miles south of the state line in Catoosa County, Ga., rather than in Chattanooga. If Costco, which is the world's largest wine retailer, had built the store in Tennessee, it would have been forced to build a separate building for its wine sales -- an expense the company was unwilling to make. As a result, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars shifted from Hamilton County to Catoosa County.

A study by Red White and Food, an advocacy group supporting wine sales in retail food stores, revealed that modernizing Tennessee's antiquated wine monopoly would net nearly 3,000 new jobs and generate as much as $38 million in tax revenue.

Policy proposals expected to be debated by the Tennessee General Assembly early next year don't force wine sales on Tennesseans. Instead, the legislation simply empowers Tennessee cities, if they so choose, to allow voters to decide the issue. Wine won't be sold in grocery stores in cities where a majority of voters are against it.

Thirty-three states allow wine sales in grocery stores. Tennessee residents want the Volunteer State to become number 34. A 2011 poll conducted by Middle Tennessee State University found that 69 percent of Tennesseans support wine sales in retail food stores.

For years, Tennessee's state lawmakers have been bought off by contributions from liquor wholesalers. In 2013, our elected officials in Nashville should finally put jobs, economic growth, liberty and common sense before special interests and allow voters with opportunity to decide whether to allow wine in grocery stores.

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You do realize that Costco and other such retailers are ALSO a special interest, right?

December 4, 2012 at 12:24 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Chattanooga residents currently go to Costco to buy cases of wine to bring home. What if Sams, Bi-Lo,... could sell wine? It is such a hassle to go to the grocery store, and a liquor store to prepare a Saturday night grill um out with Merlot. Why should I have to go to two stores, because Nashville is 4 sale with the right lobby cashola.

Half a million or so lobby in Nashville, but of course we will protect your monopoly, liquor stores and wholesalers.

December 4, 2012 at 12:35 a.m.

I know people who don't go to Costco because they feel it is too far and they have no desire for cases of Wine or anything else.

December 4, 2012 at 1:45 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Happy, that's great. For those that wish to purchase a bottle of wine to go with dinner, we should not have to go to two stores.

December 4, 2012 at 6:26 a.m.
conservative said...

One stop shopping for the food stampers. At least people would then get a glimpse of the fraud and abuse of food stamps when they pay cash for their wine and use the food stamp card for their groceries.

December 4, 2012 at 7:50 a.m.
jesse said...

In California the grocery stores have a liquor section where you can buy any alcoholic beverage you want!

Why not go that route!

This is way past due!

BTW: Bulbs, sometimes you make no sense at all!

December 4, 2012 at 9 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

The decision should be decided by the local voters, not the special interests (liquor store mafia lobby, large retail interests, or the bible thumpers).

December 4, 2012 at 9:30 a.m.

aae1049, so what if putting the wine in a store causes some other product to be moved out? Wouldn't you then be forcing upon me with that?

jesse, if you actually wanted clarification, you'd ask for it specifically, wouldn't you?

MasterChefLen, good idea, let's repeal Citizens United.

December 4, 2012 at 9:36 a.m.
Gidget said...

Happywithnewbulbs "so what if putting the wine in a store causes some other product to be moved out?" What in the world? It's called the free market. If no one wants that item the space should be used for an item people actually want. If people buy it store owners won't move it out. Period.

It's well past time for wine to be sold in grocery stores.

December 4, 2012 at 10:11 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Not only wine, but liquor too. Break the monopolies of the liquor lobby in Tennessee.

December 4, 2012 at 3:38 p.m.
justaperson said...

OK folks, you want to buy that cheep wine in the grocery? You go right ahead. I will go where I can buy something drinkable. I live in GA, buy wine at the WINE store NOT the cheep nasty tasting stuff in the grocery store....

December 4, 2012 at 4:25 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

justaperson said...

OK folks, you want to buy that cheep (sp) wine in the grocery? You go right ahead. I will go where I can buy something drinkable. I live in GA, buy wine at the WINE store NOT the cheep (sp) nasty tasting stuff in the grocery store...."

There's the vote from the liquor lobby.

They sell the same stuff both places; it's cheaper at the grocery store.

Competition will drive the cost down or wine stores will go belly-up.

December 4, 2012 at 4:45 p.m.
jesse said...

Next thing ya know just a person is gonna be tellin us about HER WINE is a little fruity w/a hint of citrus and slight nutty flavor!

NOW ME i burn me a RIB EYE on the grill and grab a jug of somethin RED and hog out!(actually a bott. of "turning Leaf" Merlot!)

December 4, 2012 at 6:08 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

People should drink what they want and smoke what they want and buy it wherever someone wants to sell it.

December 4, 2012 at 6:32 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Jesse Oh yes, the fruit and nut descriptors. While I want to smack people that talk like that, just joking, I recently found a place where such language is abundant. I love this place, and for me that cheap wine with the Kangaroo label is great for cook outs, this place is fun to learn about wines. They have a sample tray. The cheese and bread is awesome too.

http://www.cityscopemag.com/cs5.12/23WITC.pdf

December 4, 2012 at 8:12 p.m.

Gidget, nope, it's called physics. They can only have so much space in a given store. You can pretend that store owners won't have to make choices, but they have and they will.

So it does behoove us to speak up. Doesn't it?

Or is your idea of a Free Market some sort of silent enterprise?

December 4, 2012 at 9:39 p.m.
jesse said...

And while they are at it WE need liquor sales in E. Ridge!

I'm gittin tired of having to drive to Brainerd Rd.to buy my hooch!

December 5, 2012 at 9:02 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Bulbs, I agree with you on most things but I disagree with you here. I see the sale of wine in grocery stores as much more of a positive than a negative...for the most number of people - the store owners as well as the consumers. Sure, the owners will have to make some choices but that's what they have to do an on ongoing basis anyway...deciding what will sell and what won't. I'm sure that whatever they decide, it won't come down to wine taking the place of bread or produce or cereal or anything else that sells well in their stores and is in high demand by the public. They will have to make some adjustments and compromises but I'm sure that whatever they come up with will be such that no one will feel deprived of some food item(s) that suddenly has disappeared from the shelves in order to make way for a wine section. Those stores that simply don't have the space will surely opt out of even attempting to offer wine.

It's way past time for Chattanooga to join the 21st century and let our grocery stores sell wine, if they so choose, like most other cities have done for so many years.

December 5, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Furthermore, why should the liquor and wine dealers and store owners be allowed to have complete control of the market in this state? I know you to be a staunch progressive, as am I, in most ways. Yet you seem to be perfectly okay with this state-wide monopoly. I don't get where you're coming from here. This is an issue where even righties and lefties seem to be in agreement...for once!

December 5, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.

Well, I'm not where you think I am, I'm not explicitly supporting the current system, so much as I am opposing what I see is a naive endorsement of a change based on a heady illusion of certain principles regarding a free market.

Alcohol sales in grocery stores? To me it's not a positive at all, it serves me not one bit, and I'm afraid it could have a negative impact just due to the choices made by the stores, but I'm not saying it's a negative per se, so much as pointing out that those who want to sell wine in grocery stores are themselves a special interest with their own agenda.

That may not work out for the better. I think the legacy of Prohibition and Rockefeller's nobility is skewing the perspective. Are ABC states somehow worse off than others with more libertine policies?

Actually, that's probably the worst part of this discussion, it's been in isolation, without comparative review. Just an assertion that "we must allow wine sales in grocery stores because free market! and that's it.

December 5, 2012 at 2:39 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

I understand, sort of, where you're coming from, but your stance seems to be more subjective than anything. You say, "it serves me not one bit," but there are apparently a vast majority of Tennessee residents whom it would serve very well. Not only would it make it more convenient for them, it would most likely bring down the costs of certain wines. As for your comment that "those who want to sell wine in grocery stores are themselves a special interest with their own agenda"...well, sure, but it's an "agenda" that is more egalitarian than the monopoly that exists now. Anyway, perhaps this is just an issue where we must agree to respectfully disagree.

December 5, 2012 at 3:15 p.m.

How do we know it'll serve a vast majority of Tennessee residents? I don't know how many Tennessee residents it will serve, or not serve. I've not done any polling of them, but I've never heard anybody say to me, gee, I wish this grocery store had some wine. But perhaps my exposure is skewed. I don't know.

But while you may think it's a more egalitarian agenda, I, however, am not willing to accept that premise as a given. I've had enough people try to bamboozle me with that kind of notion that I'm very suspicious of it.

If we were to conduct a truly rigorous analysis, I might be persuaded, but I've not seen that. I've not even seen enough acknowledgment that there's potential benefit that is to the contrary interests of Tennessee Residents, just what to me seems an overly eager pursuit of this change...because of allegedly "free market yeah!" attitudes.

Of course, I'm also more than a little suspicious that some of those supporters would go apoplectic if the same argument were applied to another substances like marijuana.

Not all, there's a few with the genuine courage of their convictions, but enough to make me continue to be doubtful.

And that's really where I am, doubtful. I'm not about to vote against it, yet, but I can't say i'm going to vote for it.

You don't have to agree, but hopefully you can respect that my doubts do have a valid basis.

December 5, 2012 at 3:32 p.m.
jesse said...

Bulbs just gets a kick outta bein ONERY!that's all!!

He's prob.lonesome and mean too!!

December 5, 2012 at 4 p.m.

Nope, I just prefer being thoughtful, and I'm cynical when it comes to business interests.

December 5, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

It may end up being a moot issue as I do not know how the majority of Hamilton County voters feel about wine sales in grocery stores. However, it would be nice for the local voters to have a direct choice in the mater, yeah or nay. It's unfortunate that the liquor stores have been successful in getting the matter killed in committee for all of these years.

December 5, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.
fairmon said...

Does it really matter? Probably a break even on jobs as Liquor stores reduce and grocery stores add. It may enable grocery stores to spread their overhead a little but not likely to reduce grocery cost to consumers but increase grocer profits. Would it apply to only the large stores or would smaller mom and pop stores or quick stops be included? Would it increase the need for government employees to audit for compliance? The wine and spirits industry lobbies, there must be lobbying going on by others for the change. What would a vote by the public show as the majorities preference? Why not vote if there is no downside or unfairness to minorities in the results?

December 6, 2012 at 6:08 a.m.
fairmon said...

Does it really matter? Probably a break even on jobs as Liquor stores reduce and grocery stores add. It may enable grocery stores to spread their overhead a little but not likely to reduce grocery cost to consumers but increase grocer profits. Would it apply to only the large stores or would smaller mom and pop stores or quick stops be included? Would it increase the need for government employees to audit for compliance? The wine and spirits industry lobbies, there must be lobbying going on by others for the change. What would a vote by the public show as the majorities preference? Why not vote if there is no downside or unfairness to minorities in the results?

December 6, 2012 at 6:08 a.m.
joekarglo said...

Here is some additional information--as the editorial says "Each brand of liquor and wine can only be sold to package stores in each region by one wholesaler. " True, but even worse, wholesalers routinely contract for a new line of wines with no intention to distribute them, thus keeping any other distributor from obtaining them either. Also, while it's true prices and selection at the average grocery store might not be great, at Sam's and Costco they will. Eventually, down the road, one or more super stores will come to Tennessee, like Total Wine or Green's--then look out!

December 6, 2012 at 4:43 p.m.
aae1049 said...

I need a drink after reading this thread. Great, I will have to go to a special store to purchase some sippin whiskey to tolerate the Dims posting here, ie Happy, all because of a liquor store lobby.

December 6, 2012 at 10:25 p.m.

I'm sure you could find a more effective way to learn to deal with others.

Resorting to alcohol as a coping mechanism really doesn't solve your problems.

December 7, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.
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