The wine biz

Successfully exporting wine, however good and value-for-money, depends on many factors, above all the destination country. Speaking as someone who had the exclusive distribution in the UK of Spanish brands like Barbadillo, José de Soto, López Heredia, and the first Navarra wines ever exported, the business was a disaster, mainly because of a tax system that was not based on value but on volume.

The USA, however, is possibly the worst nightmare. The law is so restrictive that even retail giants like Amazon and investors like Warren Buffet cannot break down the barriers. Last week Amazon announced it was closing Amazon Wine. This is the third attempt of the all-powerful web retailer to use its massive client base to sell wine. The idea is standard Amazon: customers order their wine online and the orders are fulfilled by the producer direct. The problem is that in a country where each state sets its own tax levels, it is illegal to buy alcohol across state lines. This law results in retailers being prohibited from acting as distributors, and Amazon, with its recent acquisition of WholeFoods, now rates as a retailer.

Buffet, because of his holding in Walmart, has similarly been unable to get a licence for his McLane Food to sell wine. All these ridiculous laws date from the prohibition era and are completely outmoded in the modern world, but the courts uphold them regardless.

In a country where buying wine is as easy as buying a newspaper, and any outlet can sell alcohol for consumption on or off the premises, Spain is a delightfully refreshing environment where its inhabitants are not treated as if they were irresponsible children or racketeers.

The recently-announced link-up between Correos and Alibaba, the 'Chinese Amazon', demonstrates what can be achieved when common sense rules. Alibaba's Chinese customers order Spanish wine and olive oil and the orders are passed on to Spain's Correos, which proceeds to source the products and despatch them to the end-buyer. Complication-free, no superfluous intermediaries, and a transparent chain from start to finish. And an opportunity, no less, for Spanish producers to introduce their lines to Correos for onward promotion by Alibaba.