published Friday, December 28th, 2012

A fair market for wine

  • photo
    Consumer groups and legislators may seek General Assembly action to permit local referendums on allowing the sale of wine in Tennessee grocery stores.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tennessee's Legislature has long thwarted efforts to change liquor laws to allow grocery stores to sell wine, despite widespread public sentiment in favor of such a change. But given the conciliatory comments of Republican leaders in both the state House and Senate, the tide may turn early in the new year. It's well past time for that to happen.

Key to the potential breakthrough is a change in legislative strategy. Rather than push for a broad state law allowing wine sales in grocery stores, the movement's key sponsors, Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) are advocating a referendum clause that would allow local control over passage of a wine-in-grocery-stores ballot. That is unlikely to diminish the debate among the respective industries, but it would shift much of the political heat off legislators' backs.

That's a smart move, and one likely to favor citizen sentiment for a change. As a report by the Commercial Appeal recalled Thursday, two separate statewide polls last year confirmed broad popular support for wine sales in grocery stores. A Vanderbilt University poll showed 65 percent of respondents favored the shift; Middle Tennessee State University's poll found 69 percent in favor. Even when the Vanderbilt poll asked a follow-up question as to whether a change in the law would "benefit large chain stores while hurting locally owned businesses," 59.6 percent of respondents still supported the change.

To be fair, there is a possibility -- or a probability -- that local liquor and wine stores would suffer some loss of business under such a change. But as a matter of fair trade and fairness to consumers, wine sales should be allowed in grocery stores. There's no logic to their exclusion. If grocery stores are allowed to sell beer and control sales of that alcoholic beverage by means of carding customers to check their legal age, the alcoholic content from wine to beer is not a legitimate controlling issue.

(In fact, there is little logic to continue allowing liquor stores a monopoly over the sales of stronger liquors and spirits. Our antiquated, post-Prohibition liquor regulations need a full-scale overhaul. But the moment, broader sales of stronger spirits isn't on the table; wine is.)

The potential shift in business from wine sales in liquor stores to wine sales in grocery stores is a secondary argument to consumer fairness and convenience. In any case, experience elsewhere shows that wine buyers are likely to sustain patronage of both types of stores. Grocery stores that sell wine rarely provide the selection that good wine stores offer. The latter offer other advantages, as well, in professional judgment in selection, advice and food pairings to consumers.

Wine stores without such competitive expertise may suffer, yet wine sales in grocery stores may also grow the consumer market for better wine stores.

In any case, Tennessee lawmakers should find, at last, that protecting the market for wine sales in liquor stores is needless and unfair to consumers, and to the wine industry at large. The best way for the state to be fair to both is to finally end the exclusive wholesaler infrastructure that keeps retail wine sellers from making direct purchases from wineries. In the interim, Tennessee's consumers, and their wine stores, merit a broader, fairer, less expensive and unfettered market in which to buy and sell a broad selection of wine.

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AndrewLohr said...


Now how about competition in schools--let students who leave the public schools for other education take with them the dollars they save?

December 28, 2012 at 12:06 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

The citizens should have a chance to vote on the beer, wine, and spirits issue: Yes or No. The mafia liquor store lobby and bible thumpers have killed this issue in committee for years.

December 28, 2012 at 9:17 a.m.
nucanuck said...

JonRoss, have you been affected in any way by Obamacare?

December 28, 2012 at 2:01 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

nucanuck said...

"JonRoss, have you been affected in any way by Obamacare?"

Littlejohnnyross will get new diapers every week now, so he doesn't wear stinky nappies all the time.

But getting him to change them will be the problem.

December 28, 2012 at 2:13 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Littlejohnnyross, if you had two nickles to rub together that would be the most action you've ever had. Gone bankrupt lately?

December 28, 2012 at 2:41 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

So littlejohnnyross, did you pay off those creditors, middle-class workers, all those people who are now on Obamacare because you went bankrupt? Does your self-respect include paying off your debts? Or are you just a freeloader supported by the government teat?

December 28, 2012 at 2:56 p.m.
nucanuck said...

JonRoss, your premiums go up almost every year, with or without Obamacare. You might lose your doctor? Is he in poor health or is that just more of your chatter?

It often appears that you don't think through what you say before you lay it out there for others to chuckle over.

December 28, 2012 at 3:48 p.m.
RiverRat said...

Let's get back to the topic at hand. In addition to allowing grocery stores to sell wines, we should allow liquor stores to sell cork screws, mixers, and other bar related products. This has worked well in other states.

December 29, 2012 at 12:25 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

It's interesting how the redneck bible thumpers try to bring an abortion debate into topics that have NOTHING to do with it. The guy talks about "liberty" but does not want people to even have a VOTE on an issue of local alcohol sales.

December 29, 2012 at 6:33 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

JR, your sarcasm is noted. So is the fact that it makes no sense whatsoever. But then, one has to consider where it's coming from.

The con-man and Preacher Orr are obsessed with homosexuality; you pro-lifers (I mean, pro fetus/embryos/zygotes) are obsessed with abortion. You can't resist bringing it up - even when the subject is whether to sell wine in grocery stores! Unbelievable.

December 29, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.
fairmon said...

Free and competitive markets capitalism is the road to prosperity. Goverenment involvement other than assuring fair competition and product safety does not help the consumer.

December 30, 2012 at 1:02 a.m.
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