January 15, 2016 – For decades wineries have been battling State laws that make it difficult, even impossible, to ship wine direct to consumers. Some good things happened in 2015. Forty-three states now allow some kind of direct shipping to their citizens.
Massachusetts opened up in January of 2015 and in South Dakota a law was passed that becomes effective this month. Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Utah continue to live in the 1930s when Prohibition ended. Some of the 43 states that do allow shipments make it so onerous and expensive for wineries to ship there that many don’t bother. New Jersey, Arizona and Arkansas fit in that category.
Some of the roadblocks that Legislatures throw up include a requirement for the consumer to visit the winery before wine can be shipped directly. Indiana has just removed that requirement but it still applies in Arkansas, Arizona and Rhode Island. Others require monthly reports from wineries listing every shipment into the state. Or they have caps on the number of liters produced by a winery. Even carriers such as FedEx and UPS can be subject to criminal penalties so of course they won’t ship to states with rules like that.
As distributors consolidate, it becomes harder and harder for small brands to get distribution. Small spirits producers and craft brewers face a similar problem. The wine industry has been ahead of their competitors, really by decades. Consumers can play an important role in getting antiquated laws changed. Write your state legislators and send letters to the editor of local papers and magazines. A good web site for Direct to Consumer advocates is www.freethegrapes.org. How bizarre that in 2016 we are still fighting these battles but follow the money and see who is contributing to whom. It explains a lot.