Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wine Payola Is Alive and Well.

While talking to people about the wines I make and the wines coming out of the Okanagan Valley and BC the conversation inevitably turns to availability. People want to know where they can get our wine so they can enjoy it at home with their friends and family.

Township 7 has pretty good distribution around the Lower Mainland and we're working at spreading the love to Vancouver Island and other areas in the province. Some of the other wineries I'm familiar with are in most areas of B.C.

But it's getting tougher for new wineries and new labels to get onto the store shelves. Why is that?

I was out and about last week in Vancouver and realized that an old practice was becoming more and more prevalent. Individuals and businesses are being paid to stock certain brands. On the flipside, some restaurants and shops are demanding a certain fee to carry a line.

I'm not naive; this isn't news. It's always been the case. There has always been somebody who was willing to add a few bottles to an order or make some other little gesture to secure a spot on the shelf or a choice restaurant listing.

It was always there in the shadows. But now it's not so backroom. It's unofficial policy for some.
The result is that big producers are dominating stock lists like never before. A few multi-label houses are calling the shots; allowing smaller independents to take a few slots here and there.

Established small wineries should be able to maintain their foothold. But I wouldn't want to be a new brand going into this market. There are some big sharks on the prowl and blood in the water.

But that's business. Nobody said it would be easy to establish a brand. So who loses out besides the small, new winery? Probably only the consumer. If a big house decides that saucy import Green Appendage must be on every wine list then that is what the consumer will see. And they've got the muscle to make it happen. So everyone drinks Green Appendage and misses out on one of the small guys.

The upshot is: look for lists that are less diverse that carry fewer small, independent producers. These are the houses dominated by the big players. Solution: know who owns the brands and avoid "owned" establishments. Support restaurants and shops that demonstrate balance and fairness.
Or don't because you just don't care.

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