The Current State of Direct Wine Shipping in the U.S.
This question, not examined on this blog recently, came back into focus upon seeing two articles today concerning just this issue and from two important sources:
The current state of the direct wine shipping channel in the U.S. is as follows
• 39 states allow its consumers to purchase and have wine shipped to them from out-of-state wineries
• 15 states allow its consumers to purchase and have wine shipped to them from out-of-state retailers.
The disparity between the number of states that allow wineries to ship in and the number of states that allow retailers to ship in is entirely political. Those that disallow it while allowing wineries to ship take this protectionist position on behalf of wholesalers and many retailers that don’t like the idea of competition. Furthermore, two federal courts have incorrectly interpreted the 2005 Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision to allow discrimination against retailers, while disallowing discrimination against wineries.
Where winery direct shipping is concerned, two states loom large: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Both still effectively ban direct shipping from out-of-state wineries. Both states saw bills introduced this year that, if passed, would have finally allowed direct shipping from wineries. The failure of Massachusetts to pass a bill is most disappointing since two years ago a federal court ordered that the state’s current laws concerning winery to consumer direct shipping are unconstitutional. Yet the state has failed to address the issue.
It is my hope that those who challenged the unconstitutional laws in Massachusetts will go back to the court and as it to enforce its decision by immediately granting consumers the right to have wine shipped to them free of any restrictions or state taxes until the state actually addresses the original decision of the court.
In Pennsylvania, the most backward state where consumer access to wine is concerned, save Utah, has seen the issue of direct shipment of wine linked to the debate to privatize the sale and distribution of alcohol. It’s very difficult to say where the privatization effort in Pennsylvania will go. Currently, America’s beer and wine wholesalers have made the stopping of all privatization efforts their primary goal in the wake of losing such a battle in Washington State where spirits sales were taken out of the state’s hands earlier this year and privatized.
However, direct sales and shipment of wine from out-of-state has no business being linked to privatization in Pennsylvania. Still, where both privatization and direct shipping efforts will lead in 2013 are anyone’s guess.
What’s for certain is this: Wine consumers and their interests are still largely ignored when it comes to laws concerning access to wine. Whether the issue is winery to consumer direct sales, retailer to consumer direct sales, wine in grocery stores or privatization, any effort to change laws is driven by industry interests that have the ear of legislators either by whispering in it regularly or stuffing those ears full of campaign contributions. Consumers simply are not consulted on these issues. They have no voice.
What’s necessary is the following:
• A grass roots effort to raise the voice of wine consumers
• Multiple law suits challenging state laws that prohibit consumer from purchasing wine from out of state retailers
• An aggressive effort to force Massachusetts to open its borders to direct to consumer shipping
• An expose of the near total domination of alcohol legislation by wholesalers in every state
• Commonsense and consumer-oriented reforms to the ancient and unwieldy Three Tier System