Fred Biletnikoff shows the limits to Spirits’ growth

I remember Fred Biletnikoff as the tough looking Raiders receiver, that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. For any football fan, Fred’s toughness left an indelible mark on you.

Today, Fred is retired, still looking tough, but instead of making his living on the football field, he is making his own wine.

Inspired by the tragic death and murder of his daughter Tracey, Fred donates part of the proceeds of his wine to the Biletnikoff Foundation. The Biletnikoff Foundation supports Tracey’s Place of Hope, a residential treatment program; the Women’s Recovery Association for girls who are low-income, homeless or at risk of homelessness; Biletnikoff Foundation Scholarship Fund; Tim Brown Touchdown Club; East Bay Agency for Children; Tim Brown Mentor Camp; Live Oak Swim Team for “at-risk” children during the summer; Families First with services for children and families; and STAND! Against Domestic Violence.

Getting the Product

Biletnikoff Wines, is not a large winery and its brand is not well known across the county. If you put it on the shelves in Chicago, it would sell an odd bottle or two, but it would not sell enough volume to justify a wholesaler picking up the brand for distribution.

However, even without a distribution network in Illinois, and even without a single Illinois retailer carrying the product, a Chicagoan can still purchase Biletnikoff Wines and help young women during trouble times. The reason being is although Biletnikoff Wines lacks the concentrated demand in a single geographic area, which would keep a wholesaler from providing distribution, there is enough demand spread across the country, which would allow a market to develop for the brand. The DTC channel allows Biletnikoff Wines a spot in the marketplace, something a wholesaler could not afford to do.

The Spirits Market lacks the ability to grow

If Fred Biletnikoff made a spirit, he would have sold minimal to no product and could not survive in the marketplace. Unlike the wine DTC shipping network, which is legal in 46 states, spirits DTC shipping is limited to roughly 7 states (s0me may indicate this number is higher by 2-3 more states).

Fred’s product lacking a concentrated demand in any single marketplace, would find its ability to create demand for its product shut off by restrictive laws. The math is simple, it is easier to create a critical mass in 46 states versus 7 states.

What results from this simple equation is innovation becomes stunted and less diverse offerings come to the marketplace.

Someone was telling me the other day, about a Pumpkin Spice wine that is having success in the DTC channel. They indicated that it probably couldn’t get picked up for distribution because of the lack of concentrated demand in any one market, but the expansive DTC wine shipping market affords it the opportunity to grow.

This made me wonder, how many opportunities have we lost for unique spirits products, because spirits producers can’t ship to a vast majority of the country?

Unlike a small winery that can take chances or even go into business in the first place, the small distillery’s ability to take risks are limited because its marketplace is much smaller than a winery’s.

The DTC channel is fantastic for small wineries and affords them a sport in the marketplace, which a wholesaler couldn’t afford to provide them, yet these same benefits are shut off to distillers that want to join the marketplace. Cutting off these opportunities to spirits producers, is essentially killing off the ability for many to grow and for many to start.


Fred Biletnikoff should be praised for his humane efforts, which turned a family tragedy into something positive for young women in need. Many of these women who benefit come from lower income backgrounds, and couldn’t afford the help without Fred’s dedication and generosity. I urge my readers to go buy his wine as it is for a great cause. Although I wrote on a topic that needs discussing in the liquor community, sometimes there are other things that need to be discussed. Even when those topics are painful and tough to discuss.

Mr. Biletnikoff used his pain and did not hide from tragedy, he used it to help others live a better life. He is truly a great man and I am honored to write about him. Enjoy your weekend, and have a glass of Biletnikoff Wine, thanks Fred!