To all my foreign friends; an insight in the Swedish monopoly of alcoholic beverages.
I’m at my parents place. I wish to contribute with something special in our glasses tonight since the whole family is gathered. My parents live in a city with 42,000 inhabitants. Not small, not big. Still of a size so that specialized shops can establish themselves. When it comes to purchasing alcoholic beverages though – in Sweden – we are refered to the retail state monopoly, Systembolaget. In the city of Landskrona, where my parents live, there is one Systembolaget store.
Now, I would be fine with this if the assortment would be of such character that every one wishing to import a specific product could have it on the shelves. As you might understand on my choice of words, this is not the case. No, you will find the same mainstream products on all shelves, from the south of Sweden up to the north. That means only products of considerable size will make it, not a family produced wine of smaller production. Same prerequisites for everone?
Sure, you can order from the importers, the ones who sell their products to Systembolaget, and pick them up in your local Systembolaget store. But that calls for planning. Never ever expect to be able to pick up something special if your being spontaneous – or as in my case, spontaneous and visiting.
My parents are from Denmark originally, from a city slightly smaller than Landskrona (Köge, 35,000 inhabitants). It’s just 45 minutes by boat from Landskrona. In Köge there are wine stores and the supermarkets have plenty of wines to chose between. Being spontaneous in Köge, Denmark would be easy and also fun, because I would have been allowed to pick up something of boutique size as well.
In Landskrona, the most expensive white wine bottle I can buy spontaneously, is a 2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon blanc at 199 SEK (22 euros). The assortment of better whites is painfully poor and should I wish to pick up a Burgundy, let’s say just a Mersault, Puligny-Montrachet or a Chassagne-Montrachet – even a negociant wine, I would have to reconsider. Nothing.
The vinous road to freedom; the bridge from Malmoe to Copenhagen.
The state claims that it is all about the health aspects. That is why we have the retail monopoly. Never ever is it mentioned that revenues could be a reason as well. I respect the health concern and agrees fully, that alcohol needs to be treated with respect. But, in all other matters in our country, people are supposed to be able to take care of themselves. Other monopolies has disappeared, like the drug stores monopoly, but one still remains.
Strangely though, I can chose between more than a 100 so called bag-in-boxes, 3 liters boxes with wine. Since the taxes are so high and the supplemental charges do their part as well, the boxes are lower in price compared to bottles. Hence people buy more boxes in this country than anywhere else. 3 liters is a lot. 4 bottles. It is easy to take yet a pour from the tap and that is what people do. Hence they drink more. Health aspects, huh?
For a country, part of EU and the free movements of goods, services, people and means, it is fascinating that this is allowed to continue. Quantity thinking, large scaled producers who can ease the logistics issue of Systembolaget, are more than welcome. A quality driven family run boutique winery? Please move on. You’re not welcome to Sweden because we have to consider the health aspect.
This is 2012. Who will finally reveal this hypocrisy and what Systembolaget actually is all about?
Happy New Year everyone! Keep an eye open for my soon to be published annual wine odyssey of the year.
PS. In all of this, I have to salute all the wine importers of the country, struggling to make our lives richer when it comes to the assortment (offering interesting wines to order). But the price they are paying are ridiculous and they can’t compete on the same terms as foreign internet wine stores.