Last week I was serving a delightful couple from Alabama who were vacationing on the Central Coast. They were visiting Talley due to a recommendation from friends to try our excellent wines, and they just HAD to stop in. They loved our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs so much they wanted to ship a case of wine to their home in Alabama so they could share it with their wine-appreciating neighbors. Unfortunately, when I checked our list of state alcohol laws I discovered that we could not ship into Alabama. They were disappointed, and had to settle for purchasing two bottles that they could safely put into their checked baggage on the fight home.
Although I had experienced this before, this incident interested me to investigate further why certain states allowed unlimited shipments to their residents, and others did not. Come to find out, the after-effects of Prohibition are still with us today.
Prohibition in the United States was enacted through the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (effective on January 17, 1920), and effectively established the prohibition of intoxicating liquors in the United States by declaring the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors (though not the consumption or private possession) illegal. There were certain intoxicating liquors excluded, for example, those liquors used for medical and religious purposes. Forty six states ratified the amendment, with Connecticut and Rhode Island rejecting it.
The Amendment was in effect for the following 13 years. It was repealed in 1933 by ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, and essentially shifted regulation of the production, sales and distribution of alcohol from the federal government to the states. So, how does that affect our current shipping policies? The federal government, in returning the control of alcohol distribution to the individual states, opened the door for 50 different thoughts on how alcohol distribution should be controlled, and as a result, we have 50 different regulations to deal with. Currently seven states prohibit wine shipments to residents: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Utah.
While some states specifically prohibit the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers, some have statutory provisions that require orders to be processed and shipped through licensed wholesalers. Still others have regulations that allow wine to be shipped into the state, but only when purchased by the customer on-site at the winery. (So you can ship to yourself, ONLY if you are physically in the winery when you place that order you are shipping from.)
Also, most states have some limit to the amount of wine you can have shipped to consumers within a year – ranging from two cases per calendar year (Minnesota and Missouri), increasing to “unlimited” (California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Washington). My favorite state’s restriction is Alaska, which limits the quantity to “a reasonable amount”! Now, THAT’S not ambiguous at all!
The individual states’ regulation control sometimes have several groups of interest involved. For example, many states have liquor control boards that forbid or restrict retailers to offer anything but what the state brings in. Middleman wholesalers have become monopolies in these states and the only wines you can buy are the wines they carry.
Generally, the cost of alcohol based goods in state run markets are going to be much higher in cost due to the amount of taxation they endure. There are benefits in having aggressive laws from a state perspective, as the state Legislature can help protect its business’s (such as Distributors) and make sure that the taxes are generating money for the state.
Daniel Posner, president of the National Association of Wine Retailers, and owner of “Grapes the Wine Company”, commented - “As in anything in business, this is pure greed. 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,” he said. “These wholesalers, they hold all the cards.”
Wholesalers on the other hand, suggest that the need to enforce the interstate laws is to protect the public from under-aged drinking and fraud. Craig Wolf, president and chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, expressed that “The tight laws will keep states honest and held accountable for their commerce, whereas before “allowing retailers to sell out of state created a scenario for an unregulated system.”
Things are changing, albeit slowly. For example, just a few months ago, Oklahoma lifted their prohibition to incoming wine shipments direct to consumers, and now only requires a Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit to do so.
Bottom line? Prohibition is gone, but the individual state imposed carry-over controls are not. So keep enjoying wines in our tasting room, and, if you like what you are tasting and want to ship some home, keep your fingers crossed that you live in a state where that’s possible.
Would you like to see winery shipments open up in your state? You might want to check out this organization:
Free the Grapes! is a national, grassroots coalition of consumers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers.