The absence of wine in Tennessee grocery stores has transitioned from common gripe among citizens to an organized movement to do something about it.
For years, lawmakers have cast long shot bids at changing the state’s liquor laws to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Those moves are routinely shot down, sometimes without a second thought, while powerful liquor lobbyists look on approvingly.
Wednesday, though, the idea that’s traditionally been unceremoniously cast aside has regrouped and re-energized.
The Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association launched a new public relations campaign entitled “Red, White and Food.” A pair of public relations firms has been hired, including the powerful McNeely, Pigott & Fox, as well as a lobbyist.
Currently, 33 states allow wine sales in retail food stores, including five of the states bordering Tennessee. Tennessee should be the 34th, said Jarron Springer, the president of the state grocers association.
Springer said the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association is making a “long-term commitment” to passing legislation to allow wine in grocery stores.
“Why not wine and why not now?” Springer asked. “Why are we waiting any longer to make this change?”
The new organized movement is a result of the changing demographics in Tennessee where increasing numbers of people in retirees, tourists and employees of relocating companies are moving to the Volunteer State, Springer said.
Those people, curious about the state’s liquor laws, combined with Tennesseans who already want wine in grocery stores, is causing the charge to be led, Springer said.
“Tennessee has changed,” Springer said.
A bill to allow retail food stores to have licenses to sell wine is currently up for debate in the Legislature.
The legislation would only permit wine sales in cities that currently sell Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or whatever excites your palette.
Dry counties would not be affected and the bill does not allow every grocery store in Tennessee to sell.
While the movement to allow wine sales in grocery stores is becoming organized, it still faces an uphill fight in confronting the powerful liquor industry, which staunchly defends its three-tiered system of manufacturer-wholesaler-retailer.
Last year, that uphill fight was illustrated when an interim state senator on his last day in office tried to pass a bill through a committee to permit grocery stores to sell wine.
Not one member of the committee moved to support it.
Afterward, Tom Hensley, a legendary liquor lobbyist on Capitol Hill known as the “golden goose,” gave a short reply when asked about the bill’s demise.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Hensley, who represents the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Tennessee, said last year.
Hensley could not be reached for comment Wednesday.