As I write this I’m a long way from home, sitting in my room on the 28th floor of a hotel in mid-town Manhattan. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I’ve become accustomed to the quiet idyll of rural life in Provence until yesterday, when I was on the shuttle-bus from La Guardia airport to Grand Central Station.
I love coming to NYC, but I’d forgotten how high-octane the pace of life is here, especially compared to my sleepy village in Provence. The hustle and bustle of the New York streets – with the noises of car horns and police sirens, the fast-walking, sharp-elbowed people, the high-rise buildings – all combine to generate a feeling of energy that is so completely different to the south of France.
I’m really keen to bring Mirabeau to the US. It’s an important growth market for Provence rosé and…I just like coming here. It also makes sense to bring Mirabeau here from a language perspective as all my videos (and now these blogs) are in my native tongue, English. (Having said that, who was it that said “England and America, two nations divided by a common language”?!).
Why selling wine in the US is so challenging
Trying to sell wine in the US is incredibly challenging, much more so than most other markets. It’s not just the distances involved and the cost of travel, which are also factors that make selling here onerous, but more because of the complex and rather bizarre ‘Three-tier system’.
In the UK for example, I can approach a retailer directly and, should they select my wines, they can import from our warehouse in France and put Mirabeau straight into their stores. But in the US, alcohol legislation prohibits such a straightforward process.
The three-tier system stems from the eventual repeal (in 1933) of the National Prohibition Act, otherwise known as the Volstead Act (named after Andrew Volstead, possibly the most boring man in America and certainly the one with the most ridiculous – and impossibly large – moustache).
Prohibition was largely brought about by the powerful temperance movement and, in particular, the women of the US who were fed up with their perpetually drunken husbands. In fact the movement had managed to get alcohol banned in 25 States even before the Act in 1919.
But it soon became clear that legislating morality would be problematic, and illegal underground drinking spots, known as ‘speakeasies’ (should probably have been called ‘slur-easies’) flourished as millions of Americans evaded prohibition and continued to party like never before. In reality, people drank far more heavily during the 1920s than the previous decade. The only real winners of prohibition were the gangsters, such as Al Capone, who made serious fortunes, as in fact did JFK’s dad, Joseph Kennedy Senior.
With courthouses overflowing, alcoholism and serious crime on the increase and the police over-run (and largely corrupt), prohibition was eventually repealed by incoming President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
Explaining the three-tier system
The repeal led to the three-tier system which means, in theory, no single person or company can control the supply chain for alcoholic products, which is why it is complicated to sell here. The three tiers are producers, distributors, and retailers and the basic structure of the system is that producers can sell their products only to wholesale distributors who then sell to retailers, and only retailers may sell to consumers.
To add a further level of complexity, each of the 50 states operates its own version of the three-tier system.
So not only does this make breaking into the US complicated but it also means that the additional layers can make wines more expensive here.
But having said that, wines are often no more expensive than in the UK, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes nearly 40% of the shelf price in duty and tax (i.e. £3.40 on an £8.99 bottle of Mirabeau).
I must go and take a shower now as I’ve a big day today with some important importers and so I need to do my hair.
I’ve got a good feeling about this trip and the ‘cwap of cwaffee’ is in front of me right now is half full.