Behind the Wine

An Open letter to the 3 Tier System from Scott Peterson, California Winemaker

california winemaker scott peterson laughing in the vineyard
Scott Peterson looks pretty happy about this decision

This is a guest post written by Scott Peterson, California winemaker. He’s writing an open break up letter to the devilish 3-tier system which he’s toiled in for years.

It’s a good one! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do.

Letter from a California winemaker to the 3-Tier system

Goodbye 3-Tier System,

It’s over. You’ve used and abused me for the last time. I’ve found somebody else, and when you find out who it is I hope it stings like a mo-fo.

I’ve been tied up in your paralyzing chokehold since 1999 when I first had the audacity to think that you would allow me to start my own wine business.

I was younger then and still thought this was a country where a hard-working winemaker could make good wine and sell it to the people who wanted to drink it.

I knew only a little bit about you back then, because every winery I had ever worked for went through you. And I thought, “Damn it, if they can do it… so can I.”

Somehow I was blindsided, like a deer in headlights, naive in thinking you’d actually help me. You had huge warehouses located all over the country, sales teams who could convince people to taste my wines, and a network of retailers and restaurants who trusted you to leverage your size to get the best deals for them.

Of course, the things that all sounded good at first turned out to be the nails in my coffin. Those ride alongs or “ride withs” or whatever you call them would be the ONLY time you ever sold my wine. If I wasn’t personally there in the car with a so-called “sales rep”, somehow my wines fell off the quota list. We’re both too smart for that these days.

Yeah, I became a play thing for you. One of hundreds. Just a name in a book. And you never cared if I succeeded or failed because you knew there’d be a line of other winemakers behind me, just as naive as I had been, waiting to take my place in your book.

And what did you do for me? Or for the wine drinkers? Nada. Zippo. You would buy my wine, tack on your 25-40% mark up, and wait for me to hand sell it for you. You were a glorified box mover. And you weren’t even good at that.

I struggled finding sane distributors that actually paid me at all. I traveled around the country to promote my wines and help those distributors. I would fight for shelf space, fight for restaurant wine list placements…spending my cash (cash that I wanted to spend on grapes and barrels and real winemaking). I spent more of my time in sales and worrying about my next sale, than actually making wines. You had turned my passions against me and made me into a glorified traveling salesman.

You were a 2 ton gorilla on my back. Every time I felt like I was making progress, something catastrophic would happen, and I’d have to start over from scratch.

Let’s face it, the only reason I stuck with you so long is because it’s practically a legal requirement. Ever since that “noble experiment” called Prohibition, you were the only choice for a winemaker like me. A legally required middle man that doesn’t have a single reason to provide value because your job is secured by the law.

Even when the laws started changing and I could ship direct to wine drinkers, you bullied me. You said I needed you to actually store the wine, ship the wine, and develop the connections to get new markets.

Well I’ve got bad news for you, 3 tier system. I started working with – and for 2 years now, my life seems a bit more like heaven each day.

They have over 100,000 wine drinkers called Angels who pay me to make wines just for them. I get to make the wine exactly the way I want to. And as soon as it’s bottled and ready, they get to buy it at a fair price. Without your cut or the retailers after that, my Angels pay at least 40% less than what they’d pay if I had gone through you.

Oh and I don’t do any ride alongs. I don’t have to offer any sample bottles. I don’t fund promotions. I don’t have to change my wines or my brand for some gatekeeper.

Then, I had an epiphany, and said to myself “Self why not make all my wines the naked way?” Why am I still slogging through the traditional system with SP Drummer and Rumpus when it’s a system that just uses and abuses me?!

SO I did.

Welcome S.P. Drummer and Rumpus Cellars to the naked family.

3-tier system, and all the distributors past and present, you can take a long walk off a short dock. I’ll be doing what I love. Making wine for people who want to drink it.

I never want to see you again,

Scott Peterson, California winemaker

That’s one heck of a letter!!!

And Scott owes all this success to our Angels. When he came to Matt Parish (our chief winemaker) and said he was interested in abandoning his distributors and moving S.P. Drummer and Rumpus into the Naked family, we flipped our lids.

We’ve been loving Scott’s wines and enjoying his tasting room in Sonoma since day 1. And we know he’s poured over a decade of his life into building up those traditional distribution channels. So it means the world to us that he’s bringing his babies to Naked Angels.

A huge thanks to Scott for diving in and a huge thanks to our Angels for supporting him.

Scott will now have 3 distinct labels, each with their own identity

He will continue to make the hugely popular ROX wines with a special focus on coastal AVAs in northern California. These are almost always in the Naked sweet spot, that magic range where you seem to get the most bang for your buck by investing just a little bit more in fruit.

Here’s the old video where Scott announced his ROX wines back when we first started:

He’ll also be bringing in his S.P. Drummer wines which are top shelf Napa kit. Expect rich, powerful Napa reds like his Rutherford blend of Merlot and Cabernet. And some primo Napa Chard.

And finally, we’re going to get Rumpus Cellars, the namesake of his Sonoma-based “Rumpus Room”. That’s going to be Scott’s chance to find all the best flavors in California without any limits or rules. That’s going to mean some innovative blends between the best grapes of coastal and interior parts of the state and a real focus on delivering the most flavor per dollar imaginable. It should be a riot.

PS – If Taylor Swift or somebody reads Scott’s awesome letter and wants to turn it into an epic song, you can post on Scott’s wall or email me at

15 replies on “An Open letter to the 3 Tier System from Scott Peterson, California Winemaker”

Wohoo Scott. I’be been a bit out of touch with NE the past few months on a deployment, but this is the BEST return news I could imagine (well, minus seeing the girlfriend).

I look forward to bumping into you at Sonoma Market and shaking your hand.

I’ve bought all three labels and look forward to buying plenty more!


So excited that we get your Drummer and Rumpus wines now, too! Your letter makes me happy to be an angel. I hope all your dreams come true!

HOORAY!!! That letter’s a lot like Willie Nelson’s “Write Your Own Songs”. May I send the letter along to Willie? Not that I know him (darn 🙁 ) – but I bet he’d like it!

Fantastic letter and news for us Angels!! I enjoyed meeting you in June and getting to try your Rumpus and Drummer labels along side the ROX. What a blessing to have all three in our mix at NakedWines. I feel like Christmas came early!!

I have to say, as a passionate “wine(?)” person, I’m slightly offended by being lumped in with the general distribution machine. There are tons of us who do our best to balance and prioritize what’s important for our job and what’s important to us. As an aside, workwiths are stressful, and the most successful ones are when both parties are about getting to know a market, the real deal on buyers, and who is actually passionate enough to request someone to tote around all day. I agree, the 3 tier system is miserable, but I’m sad he’s found it so unconscionable, as many of us are fighting the good fight in the best way we know how.

Love it, I’ve always hated middle anything. I think the winemaker-drinker connection should be up close and personal. I love your wines and can’t wait to try all your brands.

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