The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Modern Day Prohibition Avoided

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 6, 2006 3:00PM

2003_03_grape.gifAbout six weeks back Chicagoist weighed in on the brewing David-and-Goliath battle between the state's major beer and spirits distributors and the growing Illinois wine industry regarding banning direct mail, phone, and internet sales of wine to customers. The distributors lobbied for legislation that would have made it impossible for the vineyards to directly sell their product to customers. The vineyards countered with legislation that not only would have protected their already meager abilities for direct sales, but would have offered them the opportunity to theoretically bypass the distributors altogether. Well, both sides reached a compromise Friday (for a more detailed analysis of the new legislation please read Tom Wark's "Fermentation" wine blog entry).

Each side claims that their main concerns were addressed, but it's clear that the vineyards came out the victors here. The distributors lobbied for their restrictive legislation under the false pretense that they were concerned about minors obtaining alcohol via the internet. This was an argument debunked long ago by the Chief Legal counsel of the State Liquor Control Commission, not to mention the age-old axiom that teenagers aren't going to wait four-to-six weeks for delivery of a case of wine when they can just give an unscrupulous adult ten bucks to buy them some Boone's Farm from a 7-Eleven.

The reality was that the distributors wanted to maximize as many avenues of profit as they could by forcing state wineries to use them in the distribution of their product. While the wineries will now have to go through the distributors to sell their product to retailers and restaurants, they won concessions allowing them to sell up to 12 cases a year directly to customers. Previously they could sell only two cases a year. They can also sell their product directly at the wineries and at two retail locations off-premise. The hard-won concessions allow for Illinois wineries to market their product more aggressively and increase their volume. It's still a long way from fully freeing the grape, but it's a welcome start.