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Redeeming Utah: A Model of Virtue in the New Era of Direct-to-Consumer Wine?


By Stephanie Cuadra, Terrestoria Wine Imports

More often than not, when the topic of Utah liquor laws arises—among those who drink in Utah, that is—a river of laments will follow. It’s only natural. Limited shelf selections at state wine stores, aesthetically bland retail experiences (so brick, so mortar!), the enduring peculiarities of the on-premise consumption of alcoholic beverages and, alas, the lowest blood alcohol limit for drivers in the nation (to take effect in December), all account for the bewilderment.

Fair enough. But the time has come to put aside all our whining over the DABC. One could even argue that given the current state of affairs throughout the entire three-tier system, the good people of Utah might actually thank their lucky stars for a Beehive-style control state which leaves a surprisingly good deal of control at the fingertips of clued-in consumers.

Allow me to elaborate.

A good place to start is with the latest edition of the State of the Wine Industry from Silicon Valley Bank, which authoritatively corroborates what many of us in the trade plainly see as the systematic alienation of small wineries, both domestic and foreign, from consolidated distribution channels. The annual report, which is penned by the bank’s founder Rob McMillan, suggests that the survival of small-scale producers will depend on their ability to adapt to this reality by evolving alongside consumers toward a smarter kind of direct (and digital) wine commerce.

“Can we continue to insist that the consumer come to the tasting room for an experience? How is that working in malls throughout the US?” provokes McMillan. “Much of the disruption we see in retail is due to shifting consumer shopping behaviors — from how they shop via different digital and physical platforms to differences in the way they value goods and experiences.”

Which, yet again, gets me thinking about Utah.

Screenshot: Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control – abc.utah.gov

As McMillan addresses the friction (to use a popular term in our industry today), that small wineries routinely encounter, such as the inability to attract mainstream wholesalers and the advancing move by consumers to online retail, why should we continue to ignore, or pretend not to see, the enormous untapped potential Utah offers — to wine enthusiasts and wine merchants alike — through something called the special order? It’s time to demystify the process and embrace the idiosyncrasies that make the DABC website a de facto platform for DtC sales.

If three-tier hegemony, as we once knew it, is nearing its end and the rules of digital engagement across all branches of business continue to change, then Utah is already poised to become one of the most progressive outposts for fine wine connoisseurship in the country.



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