The once largely-ignored regulations for interstate wine shipping have seen their enforcement ramped up in recent years.

Mike Pomranz
October 25, 2017

The internet has changed commerce in innumerable ways. Look no further than major retailer winners like Amazon—compared to brick-and-mortar decline. But just as some companies are ahead of the curve and some are behind, the law and law enforcement have also struggled to keep up with the ramifications of changing technology, creating—or altering—legal gray areas. Interstate wine shipments fit into this category. At first, being able to buy wine from across the country at the click of a button seemed like a wine drinker’s dream, but as the New York Times recently discussed, for now, the opening of that Pandora’s box has actually made interstate wine sales more difficult than ever before.

Alaska, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Wyoming: Those are the only 14 states (plus D.C.) that allow wine to be shipped to consumers from out-of-state retailers, according to the Times. (Shipping directly from wineries has different regulations).

If that list doesn’t seem accurate – possibly because you’ve had wine shipped in from out of state elsewhere – it might be because, until recently, the laws were often simply ignored by retailers, by major shipping companies and even by enforcement agencies. In the days before the internet, such purchases were too rare. In the early days of the web, the technology was too new. But more recently, as interstate sales online began to cut into the pie of wholesalers, the Times suggests that these groups have lobbied to tighten up enforcement.

“Wholesalers have been looking at this issue for quite some time,” Daniel Posner, president of the National Association of Wine Retailers, told the paper. “They went to state liquor authorities and said, ‘People aren’t following the laws.’ Now it’s all coming to a brutal end.”

Of course, the laws aren’t new, and complaining about a law actually being enforced is always a big of a dicey argument. But Posner thinks the retailer wine industry is in a unique position: “There are very few industries that are so regulated. We have an authority that looks over us, that makes sure we pay our bills on time. We have a very rigid system in place, state by state. These wholesalers, they hold all the cards.” Meanwhile, he adds, “The internet has allowed many industries to go forward, but this is sending us backwards.”

As with any issue, arguments can be made on both sides – wholesalers, for their part, say that regulations protect the consumer from things like fraud and underage drinking. But as enforcement grows, it also behooves consumers to better understand exactly what is being enforced and why. Maybe you didn’t even realize you couldn’t have wine legally shipped to you from an out-of-state wine store? And if so, maybe you’re suddenly feeling an urge to grab your “FREE THE WINE” picket sign?

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