The Current State of Direct Wine Shipping in the U.S.

What’s the state of the direct wine shipping channel in the United States?

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:

DECANTER: “The Rarest of Freedoms”
DR. VINO: “Sobering: Wine Shipping Map”

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


3 Responses

  1. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: France & California - September 6, 2012

    […] Wine Retailers’ Association” that breaks down retailer-to-consumer shipping. Tom Wark comments, explaining what we need to eliminate anti-freedom wine […]

  2. Andrea - September 7, 2012

    Hello Tom,
    Is there no way to add your new site to Google Reader now or am I missing it? I see the RSS feed, but I don’t see any options for Google Reader. 🙁
    Thanks — Andrea

  3. noblewines - September 7, 2012

    Thanks for the links… amazing what virtual nuggets I miss when I am doing “real” work. I’ve been dealing with all this bs for so many years it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach.

    About a year ago I heard about a NY State Liquor Authority meeting that was open to people in the business. I felt out of place sitting next to lawyers and executives while the debate raged about how to change the laws and who was stinking the state up with their rule bending dealings. (some big names & surprising ones at that).

    There were a swarm of execs and attorneys from Southern, Empire, Heineken, Diageo, and the like and a guy representing retailers and pretty much no one representing the restaurants. The retailer view was from the giants (no mom & pop representation at all), I don’t remember anyone speaking on behalf of restaurants at all. I did and was glared at or ignored. It is scenes like this that shape our liquor laws across the nation. No one to speak from the consumers view or the small, individual owner of a fine wine store or restaurant.

    Someday soon Sean Parker will recognize that wine needs a napster to shake it up, at least I can dream.

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