Sunday, March 12, 2017

An Open Letter to the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association


Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Just this weekend, while in town to do a book signing, I went into two establishments in Baltimore hopefully buy a few bottles of local wine. Neither liquor store/ wine shop had any wines to offer. And more so, the owners and clerks went out of their way to bad mouth Maryland wine, telling me that it was "inferior" and "not very good." They in fact, said one, they outright refused to carry it.

This was not the first time I have run into this situation, especially within Baltimore's city limits. This is in fact the fourth or fifth time in the last two to two-and-a-half years. I was appalled.

Firstly, I was always taught never to disparage another man's livelihood unless it was harmful to others. Sure, you can have your own opinion, but to present a negative opinion as fact, is downright wrong. I wouldn't go around saying, oh, don't go into that store, they don;t know what they're doing. They couldn't tell you the difference between bourbon, rye, single malt nor blend. Which, in three of the five cases, was in fact true. And none could tell me what a Baltimore rye was (btw, a Baltimore rye is at least 51% rye, 49% a blend of other grains).

It's funny. In other regions, in other countries, the regional shops and restaurants support the local wineries, distilleries, breweries, etc. Celebrate them. That's part of their selling technique. The concept being, 'It'll be hard to find anywhere else! Buy it here!'

But to tell consumers that the state's wine industry doesn't know what it's doing, or doesn't make a good product? And there were plenty of questionable products from other regions on all the shelves. No store was spared the cheap brands and awful sweet plonk that were for sale at great prices and mass produced by the super tanker-ful.

As a retailer in my lifetime several times, I understand the issues of the multiple SKUs and the limited space, more popular national brands, etc. But to bad mouth local industry? Seriously.

If this had been one incident, I might have been able to laugh it off. But I must say, five stores, all in Baltimore, ripping local wine. And, it was amazing to me, because when asked what wines or wineries they didn't like, they couldn't name one. Not one! But they had no problem bad mouthing the industry despite.

I was curious, so I asked a few other local folks I knew. All said the same exact thing: Oh no, if you want local wine, you have to go to the winery, or there's one good store in Frederick, MD, that has an excellent selection. Baltimore is a local wine dessert.

Now, Baltimore has long been one of my favorite cities. Long before we decided on the Hudson Valley for our home, Maryland was first on our list. We were enamored with the Inner Harbor and the Eastern Shore, and Western Maryland. And we've gone to many games at Camden Yards.

So, here is my request to the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association - educate your people. Partner with the Maryland Wine Grower's Association and Maryland Wine! Raise awareness of your local wine industry. At least get your membership to stop bad mouthing Maryland wine! It's time to put the skirmishes of the past behind you (ah, yes, you know what I am talking about), and befriend the one thing that would make your stores unique. You don't do into California wine shops and not find any Napa or Sonoma wines; in Burgundy it's almost the ONLY thing you can find at Burgundies; in Spain the same thing. And here's another fun fact - stores closest to the winery always sell the most wine of any liquor store in the supply chain from that nearby winery, The one that's closest to the winery. Go figure. Doesn't make sense, does it? That's a lot of wine your members are leaving on the table.

I have traveled to California (Napa, Sonoma, Temecula, Santa Barbara), France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Virginia, New York (Finger Lakes, Hudson, LI), and many other regions. And let me tell you, there are some spectacular wines available made in Maryland!

On the other hand, I challenge the Maryland wineries to show case their wines to these retailer in a more imaginative way. Think outside the box. Band together and come up with mixed sampling cases, or some such other concept. It's not just all on the retailer. Push harder. Be more creative. It's not always about spending money - sometimes it's that more valuable resource - time.

Here's a top ten list to help you out! Please pass this along to your owners and clerks.

1. Black Ankle Vineyards
2. Boordy Vineyards
3. Big Cork Vineyards
4. Old Westminster
5. Slack
6. Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
7. Thanksgiving Farm Winery
8. Port of Leonardtown Vineyards
9. Fiore Vineyard (especially their distilling)
10. The Vineyards at Dodon
11. Cassinelli Vineyards
12. Millstone Cellars
13. Bordeleau

The list does go on...but that's a baker's dozen.

These are talented winemakers. Passionate owners. Dedicated workers. Making wines that have been reviewed on numerous websites, in newspapers, magazines, even the venerable Washington Post.

It' time to recognize that your state is making terrific wines and spirits. And tell those owners and clerks they don't know what they are talking about!

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