Free the Grapes


In California’s Wine Country, wine clubs are at every vineyard. Wine clubs allow the consumer to get a subscription of wines delivered on a periodic basis right to their home. Great concept, but, in the US, this isn’t possible in many states. Currently, 17 states only allow wines to be delivered via distributors.
To combat this issue, an organization called Free The Grapes was formed. Their mission is “To Ensure Consumer Choice in Fine Wine”. By limiting wine delivery via distributors, consumers deal with not only a markup for the extra middlemen within the process but also a limited selection of wines, based on what the distributor deems worth carrying. By this method, consumers get what is thought to be marketable, not necessarily what is good.

Ohio, where I live, recently began allowing shipments directly from vineyards. I very quickly contacted one of my favorite vineyards, Imagery Estate Winery, which happens to only sell wines from their winery, not through distributors. Until I was able to join their wine club, I had to either visit the winery, ask friends that were visiting to get wines for me, or ship to a friend in another state who could then ship to me… Lots of shipping costs there!

If you’re currently in one of the following states:

Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont
Consider contacting your state legislature, either directly or via Free the Grapes.

On a side note, distributors aren’t purely minions of Satan! A Dayton, Ohio, area distributor specializes in boutique wines from California, bringing to Ohio wines that would not be available in the area any other way.

(graphic from Free the Grapes website)

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Reader Comments

And when a restaurant, on a Thursday, realizes they need a case of wine on a Friday, who they gonna call?

That liitle ol’ winemaker in Napa?

Look, it all looks good on paper, but this is a service industry. The wineries are farms not delivery companies, in the scale we are talking about.And it is also an impulse item (an extremely high percentage of all wine consumed is bought within 24 hours). If we are ever going to bring America into a wine-drinking culture we arent going to do it only with Fed-Ex and UPS.

While it makes sense with a very small allocated wine, that is a very small percentage of the business ( maybe 5%, maybe). In a city the size of Dallas over 75,000 cases of wine get delivered a day, buy the distributors. And during the Holiday season, more like 100,000 cases.
You think the US Postal Service can handle that?

As a new resident of Maryland, I can really appreciate the efforts of this organization. While I understand (to some degree) the original thought behind shipping limitations, I hate the way these shipping bans crush the opportunities that small wineries have to get their product out — even if they’re great at marketing. As a former California resident, it’s also incredibly disappointing to have to give up my wine club memberships and find myself limited to the selection at the one wine shop in my rural town.

Alfonso, I’m not saying that we need to get rid of distributors; we just need to get rid of having distributors as the only means of getting wine. Letting distributors run a monopoly isn’t good thing, in my opinion.