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Nov 19, 2017

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by Staff
Magazine Issue: Vol. 2.3
W I N E . B I T C H
interstate wine shipping
N E X T P A G E >

Felony or Freedom of Choice?

Monopolies and restrictions imposed to protect certain industries are anti-American. Unfortunately, liquor wholesalers are waging war on American wine consumers and producers by pushing restrictions on shipping wine direct to consumers and creating a state-mandated monopoly on wine distribution. The monopolies held by alcohol distributors and wholesalers over the distribution of wine is decidedly anti-consumer and anti free-trade.

With over 1000 producers of wine in California alone, the three-tier system (producer to distributor/wholesaler to retailer/restaurateur) simply can no longer sustain itself. No distributor in any region can possible represent all the brands which are in demand by the local consumer. This is especially the case as the number of distributors has been decreasing dramatically over the past decade through consolidation. Most often it is the small, family-owned winegrape grower and wine producer who is ignored by the distributor if they are represented, or denied representation due to their size and lack of profit potential for the distributor. The only alternative is for the producer to ship direct to the consumer.

The rash of wholesaler-supported felony laws against direct shipping of products to consumers is the most onerous tactic which the distributor forces are unleashing against the small wineries in order to maintain their monopolies over distribution.

To support the felony laws, and the continuation of their monopoly, wholesalers and distributors, as well as some regulators and elected officials, cite the possibility of minors receiving alcohol through the mail and producers not paying taxes on shipments. These are nothing more than straw men being raised by a sector of the industry which wants legislation protecting their complete share of the pie. The Coalition For Free Trade in Licensed Beverages, supported by Family Winemakers of California and numerous other parties, have offered model legislation addressing both these concerns. This model legislation was offered by the Florida Attorney General. Yet not a single legislator stepped forward to introduce the bill which would have addressed the stated concerns. Instead, in Florida, HB 725, wholesaler-supported legislation making direct shipments a felony, passed through a legislature that claimed "they didn't know what they were getting into."

The three-tier system of distribution is not going away, even with the challenges to its monopoly status from producers and direct shippers. Countless wineries support it as the best method of getting wine to market. Yet, exclusion of the smallest wineries from distribution in many markets for the benefit of a wholesaler monopoly and supported by politicians who receive thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, can not continue.

I'm livid at the anti-choice, anti-consumer movement arising. Is there hope for the small family producer and savvy consumers wanting choice?

Vivienne Y. Nishimura
Manager of Membership & Government Relations
Family Winemakers of California


The shipping of wine has become one of those things where it's against the law but everyone does it. Why should wine be any different than cooking supplies, clothes and the countless other catalog items that show up on my doorstep. For all the catalogs I get there are numerous stores within a short drive that sell the exact products, with the same price plus the shipping and handling. This shipping is going to be for people who want specific wines, collector types and can't get them, and for people who live in remote areas and control states where the state feels they should choose which wines people should drink. Distributors who do a good job and retailers who continue to service their customers to the best of there abilities will feel no lost sales. Also, the legal shipping of wine from smaller wineries will allow the common man to get a bottle or two.

Daniel Sobiech


Please let me know what we can do to help the cause. Living in Florida, we are experiencing first-hand the effects of these ridiculous, prohibition-dated laws. We have been forced to settle for whatever wines we are LUCKY enough to have distributed in this area. We miss out on so many limited editions and small vineyard releases simply because of where we live. It just isn't fair! I wouldn't mind paying the extra tax for the privilege of having a wider variety of what California has to offer available through the mail.

Prohibition is over... We want our WINE!!!!!

Joe Terri


I work with a small (read: minute 2,200 cases/year) family winery which sells it's product ONLY at the winery. We entertain visitors from all over the world and ship directly to consumers within the US. It's unconscionable that felony charges could occur from simply sending a couple of bottles of wine through the mail -- wine that would never be carried by the wholesalers anyway. Besides, all purchases take place through our register, as we don't take credit cards, so we're still paying our state taxes. It's the consumer and the small wineries that are really getting the shaft here. So thanks for taking the time and energy to put together some consumer awareness!


This nationwide movement to repeal reciprocity laws burns my buns! Distributors can't carry everything. Lots of winery clubs only sell certain wines to members. Small states and small allocations means that many wines aren't profitable for distributors to even fight for.

Yes, my state just repealed its reciprocity law and I am not amused!


As a former resident of several states with EXTREMELY limited wine availability, I feel for all of you. My solution to repressive laws in Pennsylvania and Ohio was to move to California, which may be neither practical nor desirable for many of you stuck in what I regard as an ignorant desert.

It'll be tough now to get a good change in the courts. The current, more Libertarian Supreme Court is, nonetheless, very attuned to and supportive of the "rights" of individual states to regulate all sorts of things, including wine shipment and consumption. It will take a very far-thinking (and wine-loving) justice to rally support for a broad federal aegis for open interstate wine shipments and sales. Even though they struck down the Rhode Island law prohibiting price advertising for alcoholic beverages two years ago.

By all means, storm the doors of your representatives in Congress and your state legislatures. It may take a constitutional amendment!

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