A Christmas Wine Miracle
Four days ago something happened I never thought I’d see. A governor of a major state called on his state liquor authority to begin a process to devise rules for legal wine shipments from out-of-state retailers. But that’s not the exciting part. Let me back up.
On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that passed overwhelmingly and with bi-partisan support in both the New York House and Senate. The bill would have prevented the New York Liquor Authority from disciplining a NY retailer without any evidence it had broken any New York law or violated the New York liquor code. It was a good bill.
The bill was passed in reaction to the New York State Liquor Authority attempting to shut down one of America’s best retailers, Empire Wine, for allegedly shipping wine illegally from New York into various states despite the fact that no state had convicted Empire Wine of a crime nor asked the New York Liquor Authority to intervene. It was a classic case of massive regulatory overreach.
Still, Governor Cuomo, after hearing the people’s representatives speak in favor of the bill and hearing retailers and consumers speak in favor of the bill, and then hearing wholesalers speak against the bill, vetoed the bill.
When Governors veto a bill its customary that they issue a message explaining their reasons. Governor Cuomo is no exception. In his Veto Message, after speaking about tied house issues and mentioning something about scofflaws, the Governor wrote the following:
“I am directing the New York State Liquor Authority to work collaboratively with liquor authorities in other states to address these issues (e-commerce in wine) and propose recommendations for legal interstate sales.”
Here is a governor of a major state where shipment of wine from out-of-state retailers is illegal calling on his state liquor authority to bring other states together to work out a means of legalizing these shipments not only in New York, but presumably in those other states also.
No such call was ever made for even winery interstate shipping.
How the New York State Liquor Authority will institute the Governor’s directive is still up in the air. However, it makes most sense to work through the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, a body of liquor administrators that meet together on a regular basis.
However the collaborative gathering of liquor administrators takes place we do know that they will meet with the following facts in hand:
1. In all those states where out-of-state retailers may legally ship, there has been no evidence that local retailers have been harmed.
2. The evidence shows that issuing shipping permits to out-of-state retailers just as wineries are issued wine shipping permits appears to work fine.
3. States that issue shipping permits to out-of-state retailers see the collection of a significant amount of tax revenue.
4. No alcohol regulatory body nor any law enforcement body has ever suggested they have encountered any problem with minors obtaining alcohol from out-of-state retailer shipments.
5. Winery associations such as the California Wine Institute have said they are fully in favor of retailer shipments, in large part because 1) it’s their members wines that are being sold and shipped and 2) because they support free trade in wine (they want to Free The Grapes).
6. The Primary advocate for free trade in wine (Free the Grapes) supports retailer wine shipping.
7. Consumers across the country support retailer shipment of wine for all the obvious reasons, but in part because it’s the only legal way they can obtain imported wines, which are only sold by retailers.
8. The media across the country has consistently supported retailer to consumer shipping.
While it is a shame that Governor Cuomo vetoed a very good and very necessary bill that would have reigned in an out of control regulatory agency, we see in his call for legal retailer to consumer shipping great wisdom and congratulate him for being a leader on this important issue.
Given the way other governors, liquor administrators, lawmakers, wine associations, and wholesalers have treated the issue of retailer shipping, this turn of events can be practically termed, the Christmas Wine Miracle.