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World of wine gets smaller

By Dave Buchanan
I was wandering the aisles of a local wine store last week when I overheard someone complaining about the difficulties of finding Colorado wines in Front Range liquor stores. That's not surprising, given the number of liquor stores along the wrong side of the Continental Divide and how long it would take someone to forge their way through all those wine aisles to find what invariably will be a limited selection. Several reasons are at the root of this lack of visibility for Colorado wines. Most of the wines are in short supply — Plum Creek Winery is the state's largest winery and they produce about 10,000 cases a year, about an hour's worth of production from Gallo. Other wineries produce much less but everyone has to decide how to split their production among which vendors. Retailers may take a case or two but that's usually hidden among all the facings on the shelf. Distribution might be the key problem. The state's three-tier distribution laws add another cost to a producer trying to find a retail outlet, so many Colorado winemakers do their own distribution. On any given day you might find Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards, Bennett Price of DeBeque Canyon Winery and numerous other West Slope winemakers schlepping their cases of wine to Front Range retailers. It's time and energy consuming but to these producers worth all that time and energy. Few big retailers are going to hand-sell small-production wines, unless you've won some spectacular award, with the same energy they give the major producers. Distributors make money on turn over, and understandably they'll push 1,000 cases of Yellowtail shiraz, where the profit margin might be bigger, with more vigor than five cases of DeBeque Canyon wine. Another drawback for small producers simply is getting lost in the big wine lists carried by major distributors. And now it's just going to get worse. A recent article on WineBusiness.com notes the merger of two of the country's largest distributors of wine and spirits, Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. of Miami, and and Glazer's Distributors of Dallas. The new company, Southern/Glazer's Distributors of America, will be the Octopus about which Frank Norris wrote, its tentacles covering 38 states representing more than 80 percent of the total wine and spirits sales in the U.S. As was noted by Terry Hughes of the blog site Mondasapore , it will be harder for small wineries to compete in the vast ocean of wines for the attention of an over-worked sales force. "(Y)et, again and again, he brought up against the railroad, that stubborn iron barrier against which his romance shattered itself to froth and disintegrated, flying spume. His heart went out to the people, and his groping hand met that of a slovenly little Dutchman, whom it was impossible to consider seriously. He searched for the True Romance, and, in the end, found grain rates and unjust freight tariffs." — Frank Norris, "The Octopus"

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