Vintners’ Access to the American Wine Market – Vino 2009

Last week, WSWA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Rowland debated the merits of the three-tier system with Specialty Wine Retailers Association (SWRA) Executive Director Tom Wark in New York City at VINO 2009, the first industry convention of Italian wines in America sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission.

As part of a three-day convention, Rowland participated in a panel discussion of “Vintners’ Access to the American Wine Market” moderated by National Association of Beverage Importers (NABI) President Bill Earle. Additional panelists were Lynn Walding, Administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division; Steve Raye, Managing Partner of Brand Action Team; and John Beaudette, President of MHW, Ltd. (formerly Monsieur Henry Wines). In addition to Italian vintners, Rocky Mountain News wine columnist and Denver Magazine contributing editor Benjamin Weinberg was also in the audience.

Wark admitted that Internet sales currently account for less than two percent of all wine sales in the United States, while claiming that wholesalers are “good at moving boxes but not good at marketing.” Wark was unable to explain to the Italian vintners attending the panel discussion how or whether his members would be able to provide suppliers the same level of services provided by wholesalers. With support from some of his fellow panelists and some in the audience, Rowland effectively made the case for the three-tier system and the economies of scale wholesalers provide to exporters of wine. Rowland also encouraged participation in WSWA’s Annual Convention in Orlando as a good step towards establishing relationships with distributors.