Wine Stuff

A blog about various and sundry wine-related topics.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Love Thy Neighbor(ing States)

There is cause for celebration and frustration for small "family" wineries in the U.S. Of late, there has been a lot of activity in the U.S. Supreme Courts and certain State Courts regarding the 21st Amendment and direct shipping laws for out-of-state wineries. Some results have been promising to down right good, while others have taken steps in the opposite direction. "So what," you may ask, "why should I care?"

Well, it's a long story which dates back to 1919, when the 18th Amendment issued in Prohibition for the U.S. This ended with the 21st Amendment in 1933, but some state legislators would have you believe that they know better than you what is best for their state residents. You see, the 21st Amendment, like all laws, leave a certain amount of room for interpretation. It is this room for interpretation which allows individual States to determine how to govern the laws of inter-state distribution and sale of wine (and other alcoholic spirits). I know, I know. This is all very dry and boring, but I implore you to stick with me just a little while longer.

Now, there are those (wholesalers, retailers, and temperance groups) who argue against direct-shipment laws and their arguments include concerns dealing with the sale of alcohol to minors via the internet, phone, or by mail order (which I believe to be a very valid issue), and they have a lot of money and lobbyists to back them up in the legal battles. However, a Model Direct Shipping Bill has been in place for almost a decade and several states, including Louisiana have decided to use this, exactly as it is intended, as a model for formulating updated Direct Shipping laws for out-of-state family operated wineries. Hooray! But there are still many states who have not been willing to take this tremendous step towards evenhanded ruling and support for the small farm wineries.

Again, you're asking, "Why should I care?" Well let me list just a few of the main reasons.
  1. For the most fundamental of ideals on which our Constitution is supposedly founded: "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." I know these rights (or the lack of them) come mind when I'm told I cannot be a member of a wine club, because the club ships wine directly to the consumer from an out-of-state winery or retailer. Chew on this for a minute. Who the h___ decided you could not have access to a wine or spirit that is not available through a wholesaler in your state? Oh yeah, right! Your Congressman did. Of course they know what's best, right? You're just a sheep in a flock of other sheep who can't make adult decisions on your own. Sound about right? Well, I say baloney! (Or some other equally strong sentiment.) We should ask what state interest is being served here.
  2. These laws are discriminatory in their ruling against businesses outside of the states in question. Feasibly, assuming a strong clientele was established, direct sales to consumers could lead to further business for the wholesalers and retailers, not less, as most of them claim. As it stands, small family wineries cannot get a foothold in the market in most states without some kind of direct sales to the consumers and retailers, which they hope, in turn, would lead to a wholesaler or retailer picking them up as a client.
  3. These laws could actually help to regulate the availability of alcohol to minors by setting up stricter laws about how the spirits are distributed (particularly via the internet). As things stand, some folks are breaking the law by contiuing to distribute their wares (albeit at a great risk to themselves and potentially others) across state lines. Ratifying updated Direct Sale laws might help by inforcing tighter standards for ordering, packaging, and delivery.
In my attempt to make this issue easy to understand, I have had to leave out some very vital facts and a lot of background information that would prove helpful in the explaination of this serious matter. For more information on individual state laws and background on Anti-Direct Shipment Laws and Constitutional issues check out the sites at Wine Institute and Coalition for Free Trade. If you are interested in contacting your Congressman about this, please consider doing so through the FreetheGrapes website. They are a national, grassroots coalition of consumers and wineries whose goal is to allow wine consumers to purchase the wines they want, in the manner of their choosing. Support of the small farmer is one way that we as consumers can help restore some of this country's former greatness. Greatness doesn't always tranlate into "power", it can also mean integrity. How 'bout we show some?


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