Well, I'm back. Not that I went anywhere other than Procrastinationville. My last blog was in early November and now it's late January. Not too much has transpired. We have a new kitten. The country has a new congress. The world has a new year.
In the winery, I've been preparing two wines for bottling on February 6th: the 2006 Quattro and the 2006 Rockfish Red. The Quattro has a slightly larger percentage of Gewurtztraminer than last year but otherwise is usual foursome of Riesling, Gewurtz., Viongier, and Traminette. Despite the pending bottle date, I'm still working the wine. The aroma is great, but the finish isn't as smooth as I'd like. I'm hoping to"fine" that out. I'm pretty sure the wine will relax and soften the finish on it's own with time, but I'll feel better toning it down a bit now. The Rockfish Red (RR) is all Cabernet Franc. I first made this wine last year. I aimed at an easy finishing, low tannic red. It was fermented and aged in steel. This year the aim's the same, but the wine did see some time in barrel. I think I mentioned tank juggling in an earlier blog. I have a finite amount of wine tanks to use and I needed the tank the RR was using. Barrels are convenient temporary storage vessels though not without some flavor/aroma significance. I'm really happy with the RR. I strived to keep the finish soft and approachable. It seems to me to have Burgundian character, in a way.
Yesterday I was in Richmond, lending my hand to the effort to allow wholesale self-distribution by Virginia farm wineries. As most of you know this has been a struggle. Farm wineries had been allowed to self-distribute directly to restaurants and retailers since the inception of the Virginia Farm Winery Act back around 1980. This allowed small wineries to grow their wholesale business without sharing the slim profit margin with a distributor, a middle man. Typically, as the winery's business grew, the need for a distributor to handle the wholesale business became desirable for logistical reasons. The winery would then sign-up with a distributor to take care of warehousing, deliveries, etc... Well, this was a great set-up, but ultimately illegal. About 18 months ago, Federal courts decided that this practice was unfair as wineries outside Virginia did not have the same distribution ability. It wasn't a level playing field and, therefore, against the Commerce clause of the Constitution. Last summer Virginia wineries lost the right to self-distribute. Quickly wineries either made plans with distributors or just stopped their whloesale practice. Signing on with a distributor, especially when you don't have economy of scale like most new winery start-ups, eats into, if not devours, profit margins. Also, a producer/distributor contract is literally tighter than marriage, and an unhappy relationship can lead to a failed winery business with no chance for divorce.
As always, ultimately the consumer pays for all of this, with higher bottle prices and less selection.
Stay with me, though. THERE SEEMS TO BE A SOLUTION! The problem has been that the distributors, naturally, did not want to give up any of their government given rights as mandated middlemen. They must get a cut of every bottle you drink thanks to our representatives. Right or wrong, if I were them, I'd do the same thing. They fought any solution our side came up with on the grounds that it weakened the Three Tier System (TTS: When it comes to alcohol you can be a producer, a distributor, or a retailer, but no business can be on more than one "tier." The exception has been Farm wineries and the result has been phenomenal. Six wineries in the state in 1980 has grown to over 110 wineries in just 26 years thanks to the Farm Wine Act). The distributors have been around since the repeal of Prohibition and have many friends in government. Our still nascent Virginia wine industry has little to compete politically with them. Except of course for people probably like you. A grassroots effort was started to help Virginia wineries. The legislators heard it. It wasn't deafening, but it was constant and consistent. I think I heard described as "the mosquito factor." I like that. Anyway, some forward thinking representatives like Del. Saxman and Sen. Hanger came up with a novel idea, made wineries and distributors sit down together, and I think we now have a solution that we all can live with.
Here's how it will work: The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) will form a distributorship. Farm wineries can join this distributorship and distribute up to 3000 cases through this distributor. Simplified, the winery will set up a leased bonded space for the VDACS Dist. The winery can go to a restaurant or shop and make a sale. The order is sent electronically into VDACS. They issue the paperwork (FW; invoice) and the wine can then be delivered. There will be a cost for this service (and it is unknown right now), but it is expected to be much lower than the typical 30% a distributor commands. Plus, the winery will be able to terminate the agreement with VDACS at any time. I've been told this concept is constitutional as Virginia already is in the Alcohol business with the ABC stores, and has passed muster in court challenges for this. Apparently, the Attorney General agreed, as well.
This system isn't perfect, but it should allow small wineries to grow and succeed. It should also allow consumers access to more wines they want at a fairer price. This Bill has only made it through sub-committee, though, and will need to go to full committee, the House floor, the state Senate, and then on to the Governor. It is not a done deal, and your continued encouragement of your representative is needed. There seems to be bi-partisan support and both the Virginia Wineries Association and the Distributors seem to be happy. Let's hope this holds up.
In reporting this, I do not want to imply credit for anything. The Virginia Wineries Association has had a strong presence this year in Richmond lead by Anne Heidig of Lake Anna Winery and David King of King Family. The wineries' long-time political leader Terri Bierne has worked tirelessly for years,... and literally up to the last second in sub-committee last night! Many winery people have driven to Richmond to speak with representatives. Many growers have as well, lead by the Virginia Vineyards Association president Rock Stevens. Grape growers need the wineries to succeed to succeed. Retailers, hospitality, the Farm Bureau, and county representatives have all helped the wineries in this cause. Del.s Saxman and Albo have been instrumental in introducing legislation to achieve the goal. Indeed the distributors need to be gratefully thanked for working out and implementing a solution we likely all can live with. And the most important help has come from all the voices of friends of Virginia wine (mosquitoes) who contacted their state representatives. Thank you very much!
I'll try to be more timely with these blogs. Feel free to hassle me into writing. -- Tim