|Vern Underwood is Chairman of the Board and CEO of Templeton Rye |
Spirits and also Chairman of the Board for Young's Market Company.
Templeton's many lies and obfuscations have been widely reported within the whiskey community, but recently Iowa's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has joined the fray with a series of articles. Today, the company's owner stepped out of the shadows and spoke to Register reporter Josh Hafner. The whole story is here.
In addition to having a lot of money at stake in Templeton, Underwood is Chairman of Young's Market Company, a major wine and spirits distributor in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and six other Western states. Presumably, he knows the industry and the rules by which it is regulated, and the antics of company president Scott Bush had become an embarrassment.
In the article, Underwood says that Templeton will bring its labels into compliance within 60 days. He also admitted that the Prohibition-era recipe claims are false and promised to build a distillery in Templeton to make the product.
Then this: "The whiskey is not the most important thing," Underwood said. "The town of Templeton is the most important thing, and the state of Iowa. The whiskey almost is the afterthought. It helps. It brings this to life."
Speaking about the label change and other misinformation disseminated by the company, Underwood said, "Currently there is some confusion. So all that confusion is going to be cleared up. If it implies that the rye whiskey is made in Templeton, then that should be changed. Anything that is misleading should be changed."
Underwood's role in the company has not so much been hidden as not widely known, although Tasting Panel reported his involvement more than a year ago in one of the fluffiest pieces of so-called journalism that you will ever read. The Des Moines Register article is the first time he has taken a lead role in speaking for the company, which currently sells about 60,000 cases of premium-priced Templeton Rye a year.
Underwood's other business, Young’s Market Company, was founded in 1888 and is one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the United States. In the 68 years since Young’s decided to engage exclusively in the sale and distribution of wine and spirits, it has grown from a relatively small local distributor servicing Southern California to the fourth largest wine and spirits distributor in the United States.
Underwood clearly knows the law and how best to manipulate it. Although federal and state laws specifically prohibit cross-ownership across tiers of the three-tier alcoholic beverage distribution system, clever owners such as Underwood have learned how to circumvent those laws. Underwood is both a producer (Templeton) and a distributor (Young's). Clearly, everything has been done legally, but it violates the law in spirit.
He is hardly alone. The Goldring family, which owns Sazerac, used to own a distribution company too, in Texas and Louisiana. The Philips (producer) and Johnson (distributor) families, a single family with two branches, do it in the upper Midwest. Again, nothing illegal about it, but it's one more example of how the way alcoholic beverages are regulated in the country is a sick joke.
NOTE: I revised the last paragraph to put the Goldring tie-up in the past tense. The Goldring family sold its interest in Republic (RNDC) about four years ago.