What happened to The customer is always right'?
By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
July 10, 2002
I've tried to be as tolerant as possible about the way the Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control Board operates the state warehouse, but they've almost driven me to the wall.
I've heard the complaints from restaurant and package store owners about the limited selection offered by the state. They want to sell the blockbusters, the wines reviewed in such magazines as the Wine Spectator and by other recognized authorities and critics.
They're willing to spend $1,200 to $2,000 a case, or more, for such wines and offer them to customers who appreciate the very best and can afford it.
You don't sell wines of that level every day. A case of wine priced at $150 a bottle may remain in a commercial cellar for a year before all 12 bottles are gone. But if retailers are willing to invest money in slow-moving inventory, that should be their option.
ABC de-lists' good wines
Not in Mississippi. The name of the game the way the state plays it is turnover, turnover, turnover.
At the last wine tasting, I wanted to serve Australia's Rosemount cabernet sauvignon Coonawarra Valley. In my book, Rosemount is one of the best producers in the world. They make a cabernet with a red, diamond-shaped label that sells for about $12 and it is a great value for the money.
But they also have a premium cabernet produced from grapes grown in the Coonawarra Valley and it is a marvelous wine. It sells for about $25 and is well worth it.
I attempted to order it for the tasting only to learn it had been "de-listed" by the state. I'm told they have a minimum number of cases which must be sold in a certain period of time and the Rosemount Coonawarra wasn't reaching the required level. Out it went. You can buy the $12 wine all day everywhere, but, if you wish to step up, you'll have to go out of state to find it.
It was reported this week that the Landmark Overlook is being de-listed for the same reason. Landmark Overlook, year after year, makes the Wine Spectator's Top 25 list of the best wines produced in that vintage. But, at this point, it is unavailable in Mississippi.
Last month's wholesale catalog, sent statewide to wine retailers, contained a list of 121 wines that were sold out. Some were low-end stuff. Some were middle-value wines. A few were higher on the scale.
Let's look at a few
Australia's Hill of Content cabernet/shiraz, about $15 retail. Lindeman's Chardonnay, probably the No. 1 imported Australian chardonnay in the world. About $20. From California, the Dry Creek cabernet sauvignon reserve, $30. Jordan cabernet Sonoma County, $40 a bottle with a great reputation. Rabbit Ridge merlot, another $20 wine.
France's La Nerthe chateauneuf de pape, a major hit at one of our tastings and a value at about $32. King Estate pinot noir from Oregon, a wine we featured in a recent column after tasting it at a gourmet dinner at the Silver Star. It sells for approximately $18.
Many of you are familiar with the picture of the old peddler steering his horse-drawn wagon down the road with every possible piece of merchandise from frying pans to bolts of fabric hanging from it. Underneath is this sage bit of advice, "You can't sell from an empty wagon."
Admittedly, the pages listing the out-of-stock wines advise the reader, "We have sold out of the wines listed below, but have re-ordered many of these wines. Please check future price lists for availability."
Does this make sense?
How many retailers do you know who wait until they are sold out before restocking inventory? Let me put it this way. How many retailers do you know who are still in business operating that way?
The state warehouse was established as one of the conditions for making wines and liquors legal in Mississippi. Until that law was passed, Mississippians lived wet and voted dry.
But, the idea of making the state the wholesaler for alcoholic beverages and making and keeping the profit on its sale rather than letting private enterprise do it helped get the bill through the Legislature. The system remains intact to this day.
The more wine the state sells, the more money it make. That seems obvious and logical to me, but apparently does not to the state of Mississippi.
If state officials are going to be in the wine business, they should do it right. It's not like providing bridges and roads. They're in it to make a buck. And they won't make the maximum buck as long as they force their customers to go out of state.
What is it they say? The customer is always right?
Except ,of course, if the customer is a wine lover in Mississippi.
Coming up: The next tasting, on July 25, will feature California syrahs.