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Topic: liquor privatization
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June 6, 2013 at 6:09 AM
In response to my blog on the one-year anniversary of liquor privatization in Washington, Seattle musician, electrician and photographer Jef Jaisun offers a consumer’s perspective on the new system. Here is a condensed version of his letter:
“I still don’t buy liquor here. I bring back top-rated tequilas from Mexico at 1/4 the cost by checking a padded wine shipper box as my second piece of ‘luggage.’ I fill it with good wines on the way down so I don’t have to drink bad, overpriced Mexican and Chilean plonk while I’m there, then refill it with great tequila at peso pricing for the flight back. On road trips I hit the duty-free shop at the Canadian border: $34 for a liter of Glenfiddich 12 Year, vs. $64 for a .750 in Washington.”
My column quoted an observer of the wine industry lamenting how much shelf space at the supermarket that wine has lost to spirits, reducing the choice among wines. Writes Jaisun:
“I’m not buying into the wine whine… It’s ludicrous to bemoan the ‘squeeze’ on wine’s footprint when the foot itself is now four times the size it used to be. The distributors we love to hate are largely responsible for what we see on the shelves. They broker the deals with
the Gallos, the Ste. Michelles, the Diageos and Constellations… sucking up shelf space to peddle the cheap plonk that still dominates here. That doesn’t mean you can’t get what you want at Esquin, McCarthy & Schiering, or Wine World, or via mailing list services like Full Pull…
“Washington vintners themselves don’t get a free pass, either. First of all, there are upwards of 800 wineries in the state now. You’d have to have a pretty decent sized shop just to rack one varietal from each of them. So imagine how impossible it is to carry five or six from each producer. Secondly (and this is a long-standing gripe of mine), the insanely high prices some of these ‘boutique’ wines carry necessarily excludes them from most retailers’ shelves. It’s one thing for me to stop into a tasting room and drop $50 on a limited release reserve cab, but in a retail store? Never…”
February 1, 2013 at 6:02 AM
A fight about liquor sales to restaurants and bars erupted last week at the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee in Olympia. It’s a fight about how Washington’s new privatized liquor system works, who is allowed to do make money doing what. It is between the same sides as fought over Initiative 1183.
Opinion Northwest is a blog for writers who take sides, so I’ll put my cards on the table. I supported 1183 and the privatization of liquor, taking the side of Costco, the restaurants and grocery chains against the liquor distributors and the grocery independents. My sympathies have not changed. But the fight I describe here has reasonable arguments on both sides. It’s complicated, and explaining it takes a lot of words. This time I’m not worrying about my own opinion.
The two sides define the issue differently. The Costco and restaurants’ side says the issue is the freedom to compete, to serve the consumer and not have restaurants and bars subjected to a wholesale duopoly. The distributors’ side says the issue is Costco creating an unfair advantage for itself under the law it wrote and put up the money to pass. (Costco wrote Initiative 1183 and spent nearly $20 million on the campaign to pass it.)