Privatization of Liquor Laws Should Bring Change to Wine Sales

Change is on the horizon for how and where you buy wine, and it’s probably not a bad idea to start preparing yourself now.

Remember the passage of Initiative 1183 last fall? The initiative approved the privatization of liquor sales and distribution and also allowed for discount pricing on wine and spirits. By June 1, all State liquor stores must close and private sales from qualifying retailers can begin.

nullWill this affect the way you purchase wines? Almost certainly.

For starters, you’re going to see a smaller selection of wines at large retail grocers. Shelf space that was once dedicated exclusively for wine is going to shrink as retailers make room for liquor and spirits.

You can also expect that smaller space to be occupied by fewer wineries, and those wineries will likely be larger ones that can take advantage of the discount pricing feature. Yes, you’ll probably see some good prices, but you’ll also have less, perhaps significantly less, to choose from.

I’ve spoken to a salesperson for a local winery and he’s already been notified by a Whatcom County-based grocer that after June 1 they’ll be cutting back on the amount of his wine available for display. This scenario will also be the case for a number of other smaller, mom-and-pop Washington wineries, effectively forcing them out of this part of the market in search of other retail venues.

I expect that this will work in favor of privately owned wine shops, who’ll be able to provide an outlet for small wineries and capitalize on “harder to find” wines that will no longer be able available for purchase in the wine section at your grocer. It’s quite possible you’ll see an increase in the number of these shops as time progresses.

Smaller Washington wineries will also need to take advantage of other ways to sell their wine. Nearly everyone has online sales availability, but self-promotion of a firsthand visit to the winery’s production facility and tasting room should take on even more importance.

I’ve always been a big proponent of experiencing a winery this way and can envision these smaller producers continuing to pool their resources in a creative effort to entice consumers. Look for the formation of even more winery associations that offer cooperative advertising and promotion, special events and festivals, tours, accommodation packages and the like.

Will all these changes come about? Although that’s not entirely clear one thing is for certain; once June 1 rolls around buying wine will never be quite the same.

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