WineInk: Wine is on the ballot in this year’s election
I know. Just watching the television advertisements is enough to drive one to drink. This is the time of year when our democracy goes crazy with messages of obfuscation, as the candidates and supporters of various issues blanket airwaves with confusing ads with the seeming intent of befuddling the voting public. And, that’s not the worst of it. The hate ads and the attack ads that pit people against each other are absolutely vile.
So, why is that fodder for this column, which is supposed to be about wine, something that brings joy and happiness?
Well, if you have taken the time to look at your official ballot, sent out last week by Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Ingrid Grueter, you will have noticed that there are three separate statutory state ballot measures that have to do with the ways in which wine is sold and ultimately bought in Colorado. Propositions 124, 125, and 126 ask citizens to vote on statutes that, if passed, will change the rules as to who will be allowed to sell and distribute wine.
While these ballot measures are not as visible as the races for U.S. senator, our own District 3 congressional representative to Congress, or, yes, that important decision of whom to vote for Pitkin County sheriff, they do have consequences. And, all three measures have received significant funding for those aforementioned advertisements that often do more to confuse than inform. Over the coming days before the Nov. 8 elections, you likely will see some of them and ask, “What does that mean?”
Let’s take a look at them one at a time, and see if we can suss out what the three propositions will or won’t do.
In chronological order, if you vote YES/FOR Proposition 124, you are voting to allow an increase in the number of “retail liquor store licenses in which a person may hold an interest.” Today, an individual can hold an interest in a maximum of three liquor stores in Colorado. If the law passes, there will be a gradual increase in how many stores an individual may own, or have a share in, with up to eight allowed in 2026, 13 in 2031 and 20 in 2036. After Jan. 1, 2037, or 15 years from now, unlimited licenses will be allowed.
For context, there are currently 1,592 retail liquor stores in the state of Colorado allowed to sell beer, wine, and all types of alcohol. That number will slowly but surely rise over the coming decade if Proposition 124 passes.
Those who support the Proposition 124 argue that consumers will have greater access to products they want to purchase, and that it will open up the marketplace for individual owners to grow their businesses. Those in opposition note that the change will have the effect of opening up the local market to the most financially successful entities — i.e., corporations and conglomerates — to open more shops at the expense of local community shops. The unintended consequence, they argue, is that there will be more stores owned by large chains and fewer small mom-and-pop shops.
It should be noted that among the most significant financial contributors on the YES/FOR side are David Trone, a U.S. representative from Maryland (he is a Democrat) and his brother, Robert Trone. The pair own Total Wine & More, which, according to their website, has 229 superstores across 27 states, including three in Colorado. The YES/FOR proponents have raised over $12 million in donations, while the NO/AGAINST side has, according to Ballotpedia.org, gathered less than $1 million in contributions.
While I recognize the potential for large entities to further dominate the market, I also think that Proposition 124 will allow local retailers to grow their businesses, as well. And, I believe the gradual increase in shops should prove beneficial for consumers. I am voting YES/FOR on Proposition 124.
The second ballot measure, Proposition 125, seeks to allow grocery and convenience stores and other businesses that currently hold licenses to sell beer and fermented beverages to also sell wine. If the proposition passes, then those establishments’ licenses will automatically convert to allow the sale of wine along with beer. In other words, you will be able to buy wine in the same places you currently buy beer. A YES/FOR vote will be for this change.
This measure would immediately impact 1,819 locations that sell beer but do not currently have the right to sell wine. A NO/AGAINST vote will maintain the status-quo for these establishments.
As you would expect, the major supermarket retailers — Kroger, Albertson’s, and Target — are all in favor, as they will be able to add a new category, wines, to their shelves. Colorado winemaker Kevin Webber, who is also CEO of Carboy Winery, has been visible in advertisements, arguing, correctly, that passage of the proposition would increase sales opportunities for locally-made wines. And, it is suggested that this will make wines available to communities that are underserved by local wine shops.
But, those who oppose it say that the proposition will bring rapid change to an industry that is currently functioning well, with an instant doubling of the number of places allowed to sell wine. Wine shops located near markets will instantly have intense competition for not only customers, but also for supplies as deep-pocketed corporations move into the wine world.
While I am in favor of free markets, I will be voting NO/AGAINST Proposition 125. Unlike Proposition 124, this has no gradual rollout. It changes the marketplace radically overnight, giving what I think is an unfair advantage to mass-retailers, as opposed to the boutique shops. Yes, it would create more immediate convenience for consumers, but at what long-term cost?
The final ballot measure in the 2022 election is Proposition 126, perhaps the most complicated of the three. On the face of it, Proposition 126 will allow alcohol retailers and liquor-licensed businesses, including grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, bars, and restaurants, to offer third-party delivery services for alcohol deliveries beginning March 1, 2023. In other words, a restaurant that has a liquor license and delivers food through a third party like Uber Eats will be allowed to also deliver alcohol, including wines, through that service. There are other provisions in the proposition, but that is the main point.
In 2020 during the pandemic, Colorado passed a law designed to help the restaurant industry that allowed takeout and delivery of wine and spirits by bars and restaurants. That would be automatically repealed in 2025, but Proposition 126 would extend that opportunity.
Personally, I will be voting YES/FOR Proposition 126, as I believe that opening up these kind of sales was not just a boost for the establishments that needed a boost, but also for consumers. A bottle of wine with a delivery of an Italian dinner is a good thing, and I support that.
Hopefully, this brings a little clarity to some of the initiatives that may seem arcane on your ballot. I hope you give these three propositions some thought and be sure to cast your votes on Tuesday any way you see fit.
And, after you have voted, pour yourself a glass of wine and toast our democracy.
Sea Smoke’s SEA SPRAY “Blanc de Noir” 2015
It’s about time that I opened this sparkling wine from a kinder, gentler time before the election of 2016. This limited production beauty, sourced from Sea Smoke’s biodynamic estate vineyards in California’s Sta. Rita Hills, is precisely the kind of wine you won’t find on a supermarket shelf. I’m just lucky to still have a bottle. Produced using the méthode champenoise that is used in the Champagne region itself, this sparkling wine made from “Noir” Pinot Noir Grapes retains a slight pinkish blush and presents the slightest hint of darker berries on the palate. Fresh, even eight years after harvest, there are the traditional notes of baked brioche and a creamy mouth feel. It’s just right for a celebration.