As of July 1, you can buy wine in grocery stores
Samuel M. Simpkins
No sooner had the clock struck eight Friday morning than grocery store clerks across the state started sliding bottles of wine across scanners, accepting payment in turn.
Not since 1967, when the vote for liquor-by-the-drink finally passed in Nashville, have the steeple-borne blue laws bent to economics and consumer boosterism.
For many wine drinkers, especially those who have moved here from one of the 37 other states with more relaxed liquor laws, that simple transaction was a long time coming. It took years of legislative arm twisting, hand wringing and, finally, lobbyist back patting to bring what state Alcoholic Beverage Commissioner Mary McDaniel calls “a dramatic change in the law.”
State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who bought three bottles Friday morning at a Rutherford County Publix, spent seven years working on this iteration of wine sales legislation and then waited two more years before the law could take effect. He wanted to be one of the the first in the Central time zone to enjoy this new privilege and even signed bottles for others looking to commemorate the moment.
“I thought it would never be here, but it’s here,” Ketron said. “I’m so pleased to be able to buy the first bottle.”
At Trader Joe’s in Green Hills, a large crowd arrived drunk with excitement.
“It was a fabulous morning and a great turnout,” said Trader Joe’s “Captain” John Uebbing. “It exceeded our expectations.”
More on Tennessee liquor laws
Eager wine shoppers queued up outside Trader Joe’s before the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. By 8 a.m., the official vine time for sales, every register was backed up with shoppers.
Many of the carts were groaning with cases of the ultra-cheap, value brand Charles Shaw wines, affectionately known as “Two Buck Chuck” for their sub-$2 price tag in other parts of the country.
Anticipating the unusually strong brand loyalty seen at other store openings, Trader Joe’s hired a Charles Shaw impersonator. (The name comes from a shuttered wine label that was later purchased by Bronco Wine Company, one of the largest contract producers in California.) For Nashvillians, the varietals should earn a name closer to “Four Buck Chuck” after taxes.
Inside the Melrose Kroger on Eighth Avenue S., Claudine Lemaire was amused by all the fanfare. A native of Louisiana, where drive-through daiquiri marts are as common as humid days, Lemaire feels that sales are still over-restrictive, especially on Sundays and holidays. “I guess it takes more planning than I like to put into it,” she laughed.
Ketron said he might tilt at that windmill, indicating he’s interested in modifying his law to allow wine sales on Sunday.
“We’ll see if the people of Tennessee want it,” Ketron said. “If they are willing to petition for it, then we’ll bring that piece of legislation.”
In the meantime, liquor stores are braced for the change and focusing now on offering better and more informed customer service experiences.
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In an email to customers, boutique East Nashville shop Woodland Wine Merchant touted its relationships on both sides of the wine aisle.
“Lately, a lot of folks have been asking how much the next phase of changes will affect us. The simple answer is … very little. In our nine years we’ve built strong relationships with our neighbors (on the one hand) and the best small importers and suppliers (on the other), and in that way we’ve created a shop that Nashville’s drinking public can count on.”
The most common refrain of the day, though, seemed to be, “It’s about time,” as Monica Mays offered in a Kroger in Dickson.
In Green Hills, Richard Swor chose his “Rosé All Day” T-shirt for the occasion, hovering over the checkout line so his receipt would be time-stamped right at 8 a.m. for all posterity.
Given that most studies show that between 70 percent and 90 percent of the wine purchased in the United States is consumed within 24 hours, convenience does seem to be a significant driver, and grocery stores offer a broader range of one-stop-shopping items than liquor stores.
“It’s like heaven opened its doors,” said Coury Palermo once inside Trader Joe’s.
You better do your holiday shopping Saturday, though. It seems that Tennessee law proclaims that the fermented grape side of heaven is closed on Sundays and the Fourth of July.
Reporters Holly Meyer, Kirk Bado, Chris Gadd, Mary Hance, Ariana Sawyer, Scott Broden, Melanie Balakit and Ayrika Whitney contributed to this report.