Considering his position as a paid spokesperson for a northern Michigan winery, Rick Coates biased, misleading commentary on the Internet alcohol sales/direct shipment debate is certainly understandable, yet still unacceptable (Grapes of Wrath, July 17, 2005). His slanted interpretation of the legislative response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision fails to acknowledge the very real threat to Michigan businesses -- including Michigan wineries -- and to the state budget if we open the doors to a flood of out-of-state alcohol vendors.
To fully understand where we are headed, we must clarify where we have been on this issue. Michigans wholesalers have long supported Michigans wineries‘ right to sell their product. They supported the initial law that carved out a special exemption on shipping for in-state wineries, they spent more than a quarter of a million dollars defending this special exemption in the courts, and they even finance the Michigan Grape & Wine Council through wholesaler licensing fees. Even the proposed prohibition on Internet and mail order alcohol sales and direct shipment would allow wineries to sell their wine at the winery premises, at properly licensed tasting rooms and at restaurants located on or adjacent to the winery premises.
Specialty wine producers are not the only businesses with a stake in the outcome of this issue. Distributors -- such as myself -- provide a number of good-paying jobs for our community, including drivers, warehouse workers and administrative staff. Around the state, distributors employ more than 5,000 people, with wages and benefits exceeding $240 million. Statewide, distributor businesses sales exceed $1.5 billion, we pay more than $11 million in SBT, property taxes and fees, and we contribute another $4 million to local charities and community events.