Widening the Wine Aisle

A reader worries that the sale of wine in grocery stores will kill funky Mom-'n'-Pop shops, but Dara disagrees

Dear Dara,

I am writing to you as a longtime fan. I have always enjoyed your reviews, perspective, and attitude. I must, however, take issue with your column arguing in favor of the proposal to make it legal to sell wine in grocery stores ["Wine Grocery Redux," Feb. 25]. The concept of being able to buy your groceries and wine at the same time seems practical and reasonable at first glance, but it is simply naïve.

What I have loved about the market for wine in Minnesota is the incredible amount of choice. You'll find Beaumes-de-Venise in both white Muscat or red blend forms. You'll find Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Bordeaux, or California. Choices abound. In Arizona, where I've lived and worked in the industry, mass-market appeal is the rule of thumb. California Cabernet can be found. Argentine Malbecs are rare. Single-vineyard Burgundies can only be procured online. Is this the gastronomical world that you would really want for us poor "innocent wine drinkers?"

Solo Vino's Robert Strunk: "The wine they can sell in grocery stores isn't personalized."
Craig Lassig
Solo Vino's Robert Strunk: "The wine they can sell in grocery stores isn't personalized."

Now, let's talk about the folks behind the bill, the Minnesota Grocers Association, i.e.: Cub Foods, Rainbow, Super Target, as well as the massive corporate distributors of the products that they want us to consume to help their bottom line. Let's be specific: Because the proposed law would only include grocery stores over 10,000 square feet, every local mom-and-pop store would be exempt. So let's take a little stroll through what the corporatization of the food industry has taught us. Bigger is better; the record is clear. Why buy a family-owned, -farmed, -vinified, and -bottled wine when you can buy some insipid, factory-formed, marketed, and distributed bottle of "Two Buck Chuck"?

Please think for a moment what it would mean if wine were to be sold in corporate grocery stores. Job loss. First, smaller distributors would close because they have no clout, and these are the very people who bring us eccentric wines from places we have never been and quite often never heard of. Liquor stores will fall next. Do you, as a consumer, want to explore the wines of little-known regions of the world that may produce fewer than 5,000 cases of wine a year, or do you want to swallow the next "best" thing the corporate world has created for you?

Every day a family-run farm goes bankrupt. Just think of the joblessness that occurs when you buy corporate wine. A family farm that has been in that family for centuries fails. The distributor who took that wine worldwide fails. The importer (who probably lives here) loses income. The retailer is out of business because Cub and others have killed his bottom line.

But I digress. Do you really want to begin tasting and commenting on the differences between Wendy's junior bacon cheeseburger and Burger King's charbroiled burger? Are we to become a state where the food at Perkins is gourmet? Is an evening at the Olive Garden a night out? Dream of a world where there is no Solera, no W.A. Frost. A world in which Lucia Watson sells herself to the corporate devil. Imagine that, you cynics! Once you begin to drive out individuality, there is no end.

Dara, do you really desire a world where you must wear a lab coat and are forced to taste fries in some sterile subterranean lair in which Dick Cheney occasionally appears to add more salt and/or start another war?

--Brian, Minneapolis

Dear Brian,


You know, it seems to me that we already live in a world where Olive Garden constitutes a night out. It also seems to me that the existence of Perkins doesn't jeopardize Lucia Watson's purity of heart and vision. Good Lord, man, these are merely horrible corporate-money juggernauts. They're not satanic super-beings capable of stealing our souls, destroying our taste, and directing all of our purchases. Each one of us, all day long, is capable of exercising free will.

Even in the face of bargains.

I swear to you, this is true.

I mean, if our brethren have retained their human souls in the face of the Spanish Inquisition, the Star Chambers, institutionalized slavery, Hitler, Franco, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet, and the House Un-American Activities Committee, surely we Minnesotans are capable of defending our free will against low, low prices on the good stuff.

But enough of what I think. You get plenty of that week in and week out. What do the people whom you are defending, the staunch owners and employees of our best wine and liquor stores, think?

As it turns out, they mostly think they don't want to go on the record. "Grocery stores would sell funerals if you'd let 'em!" one wine shop old-timer told me, refusing to be quoted by name, adding that grocery store employees would certainly sell to the underage. "Have you seen what they have for cashiers? They're a bunch of creatures!"

However, the people who do want to go on the record have a more nuanced view of the perils and probabilities of wine in the grocery stores, so let's let them have their say.

Solo Vino is one of the best wine stores in the Midwest. It's a golden little oasis in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill where each and every bottle is selected and tasted by the owners. Even though these are exactly the people who find unusual wines and hand-sell them to customers, they aren't worried about wine in grocery stores. "I think certain people will suffer, especially MGM and big shops," says Robert Strunk, one of Solo Vino's co-owners. "The places that will get hurt the most are the ones that sell more liquor than we do, and don't staff stores with wine people. I think what will happen is that wine in grocery stores will introduce more people to wine. They'll drink it for a while and eventually want to learn more, so they'll come to us.

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