Remnants of Prohibition still Reign in Tennessee

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winelaws2 When I first moved to Houston in the early 1980s there was a local grocery store chain that didn’t sell wine and beer. I always figured it was because the owners were Baptist, and saw any form of alcohol as the Devil’s Juice.  I was raised by a Southern Baptist mother, who didn’t allow alcohol in our house.  Hers wasn’t really so much a religious concern; more of the fact her grandfather had been killed in a car accident coming from lunch with a bunch of other attorneys where someone was driving drunk. The religious aspect just provided a nice cover.

I used to spend my nights out in a barroom
Liquor was the only love I’d known
But you rescued me from reachin’ for the bottom, baby
And you brought me back from being too far gone.

I always wondered about the strict rules against alcohol in her “religion of origin” (she later became Methodist) since there are a number of passages in the Bible that talk positively about wine. (Read them in AWB:2 Go and Zin No More?). And then there’s that inconvenient story about Jesus’ turning water into wine. And the fact that the highest per capita wine consumption by country is held by Vactican City. In the words of eldest who said, “I really don’t think Jesus would have deliberately done something to cause people to sin,” I never really understood how alcohol was inherently evil.

So somewhere along the way, this same grocery store was sold, or joined the modern age.  Now they sell all sorts of wine and beer, they just don’t sell hard liquor.

You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You’re as sweet as strawberry wine
You’re as warm as a glass of brandy
And I stay stoned on your love all the time.

~ Tennessee Whiskey by David Allan Coe

Diapers can Lead to Drunkenness & Debauchery in Tennessee

Most other states don’t sell hard liquor in grocery stores. That’s why I found the arguments put forth by the Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association in fighting legislation (SB 0120/HB 1158) to allow wine sales in grocery stores laughable.

A movement is underway to liberalize the liquor laws in Tennessee. The Tennessean calls it “one of the biggest changes in state liquor laws since the repeal of Prohibition.” One of the most prominent signs of this effort is proposed legislation to allow Wine in Convenience and Grocery Stores.

Current liquor laws keep high-proof alcohol controlled. Today, Tennessee law demands that alcohol retail stores focus their attention on just one product – alcohol. They do not sell lettuce, diapers, candy, gas or milk. Retail employees know that every person in the store is there to buy alcohol. And they regularly turn people away if they seem too young or have had too much to drink. Tennessee Wine & Retailers Association

Tennessee, you know, home of Jack Daniels Whiskey and Lynchburg Lemonade. Worried about access to alcohol. Yeah, right. Then there is the argument that allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores will lead to an “epidemic of drunken vagrants cluttering the streets,” put forth by Pamela Erickson, president of Public Action Management, a “temperance” movement. (That’s right “Public Action Management” – PAM, she named it after herself. )

“I don’t think you could make a big change like that without increasing consumption and social problems,” Erickson said. “I know a lot of people say 33 states sell wine in grocery stores and they don’t have problems. Well believe me, we do have problems.” – The City Paper

I suppose Miss Pam hasn’t visited Nashville on weekends in the summer – mainly because she lives in Arizona. Now granted, I haven’t been there for several years, but I remember all sorts of inebriated people stumbling out of Nashville bars at closing time. And my guess is that when the The Vols have a big win, wine in grocery stores is not going to make much difference of the level of insobriety in Knoxville.

The Three-Tier System is Not The Holy Trinity

Once again the “temperance” folks are conflating market control with religion.  As with HR 5034, the mighty three-tier system rises up against consumers to limit access and choices to those of the middlemen. The wholesalers and distributors hide behind The Father, Son and Holy Ghost while they continue to give The Devil his Due.

According to The Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee’s Corrected Fiscal Note for SB0120, total wine sales in 2008 equaled $27,030,000,000, according to the 2009 Wine Handbook.

Reports VinQuest, the annual survey of the nation’s over 3500 bonded wineries from VinterActive, tasting room, wine club, internet and event sales amounted to $3 billion in 2009. On-line wine sales rose 29%.  While many larger wineries reported declines in tasting room traffic, wine club and consumer spending; small and mid-sized wineries reported increases due to their use of social networking, direct marketing and special events.  Much to the chagrin of wholesalers and distributors, 63% of U.S. wineries project consumer direct sales as their fastest growing market for 2010.  (Data from VinterActive research as reported by TMCnet.com)

It’s no wonder Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) President Craig Wolf urged Congress to support H.R. 5034. Let’s face it, $3 billion and growing is a serious incentive to take all the marbles and go home, while pretending that it’s all about Jesus and “our kids.”

Tennessee’s SB 0120/HB 1158 is still in committee. You can’t do much about unless you live in Tennessee.  But you can do something about HR 5034, the abomination referred to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary.

Here at Another Wine Blog, we’ll continue to talk about how this hurts the small businessman; and exempts this one powerful cartel from the Constitutional provision that governs every other product shipped via interstate commerce. You can read the current text of the bill here. If you’re on Facebook, you can join the fight here at STOP H.R. 5034.

But if you’ve read enough and want to do something now, contact your congressional representative to insist he or she protects your right to purchase wine! Go to FreeTheGrapes.org to learn more. Or use this handy FreeTheGrapes.org site to automatically generate a letter to send to your U.S. Congressional Representatives in both the House and the Senate.

To read more commentary opposing H.R. 5034, check out our previous post, If Passed, HR 5034 Cheats Wine Consumers and HR: 5034: What if Wine Were Peaches.  Here’s another great analysis of HR 5034 by Stems and Legs Wine Blog, and an editorial on The Santa Rose Press Democrat website.

Stop H.R. 5034. It’s bad for small business. It’s bad for family-owned wineries. It’s bad for you.

- The WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. She holds certifications from International Sommelier Guild, regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events and is currently studying for her California Wine Appellation Specialist certification through the San Francisco Wine School.
  • http://yakyakwine.com Chris

    Very interesting blog, Amy. I'm a former Tennessean and spent my youth hearing about the evils of alcohol from the pulpit. In college we drove 45 miles to the nearest store that sold wine or hard liquor. Moonshine from the locals was much easier to find. I have no idea how this became the way it was then, but I know in my lifetime some things have changed there. The town where I grew up now has plenty of stores and even a few wineries around the area. I know some of the old feelings are still strong too.

    You've peaked my interest and if I have the chance at my next family reunion, I may bring this topic up with my cousins who are Baptist ministers.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      When I lived in WV we had a Baptist minister who had no problem drinking a beer. But then he always stressed he was an American Baptist, and not a Southern Baptist. Taking something to excess is nearly always going to lead one down the wrong path — but my argument always goes back to, hey Jesus DID turn the water into wine!

  • JM

    I've lived in Tennessee my whole life (sorry!) and the grocery store argument is stupid. You can buy beer anywhere just about that sells drinks, selling wine in a grocery store isn't going to make any difference at all in the levels of drunkeness on the streets. In fact, I lived for 25 years in Bristol, which sits on the TN/VA state line. I lived in TN and worked in a Food City on the VA side, where we did sell wine. And even then, on both sides of town, beer was the main drink for the drunken masses. Wine was bought by the people who intended to go home and drink it slowly or for a special occasion. Religion is just an excuse that anyone seems to like to hide behind when they know they have no real reason for their actions other than greed. And in my experience, even the people down here who say alcohol is bad will still have a beer or six with their weekend cookouts or whatever. Hypocrisy at it's finest.

    • http://yakyakwine.com Chris

      JM, small world, Bristol is my home town. THS '82. My fondest memories were the race weekends when beer by the gallon in milk jugs was available at the markets on Volunteer Parkway.

      The driver for wine and liquor stores in Bristol is exactly what you describe as greed. The VA side had it first (just like the lottery), so the TN side wanted to stop the flow revenue across the state line.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      I liked the rebuttal I read in one of the Washington papers: Do you really think a teenager is going to plunk $30 down on a bottle of wine? And does it honestly take a higher level of ethics to keep from selling wine to someone underage at a liquor store than at a grocery store?

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