Wine is complicated and believe it or not still hostage, to a degree in certain states, to Prohibition era legislation. The whole process gets further complicated by the messy relationship between State and Federal laws about import, export and interstate commerce. Believe it or not there is actually an organization that works to make sense of all this called Free the Grape. Their site is wonderful and contains a lot of information about the laws in various states, variations in state laws and what needs to be done to get fair uniformity across the nation.
I live in Montana and we had the worst laws, on direct shipment of wine, until a few years ago when we enacted a “connoisseurs” license statute that allowed a person to purchase ($50.00) a license to purchase specific beers and wines, directly from out of state producers and distributors, when not otherwise available in the state. In short we agreed to make sure that the state got it’s taxes on the wines we bought in exchange for getting better selection. Good idea or Disaster? It was clearly a disaster as it created a bureaucratic nightmare for both the state and the license holder. This process lasted one legislative cycle and then (as to wine) got repealed by a law that allowed for “Wineries” to directly ship up to 18 cases of their own product to any individual Montana resident each year. This created a vast improvement over the prior scheme, but wait it didn’t go far enough.
For some reason (restraint of trade I’m sure) Montana fears opening this opportunity up beyond wineries and their own products. I am told by persons within the Department of Revenue Liquor Division (MDRLD) that they want to keep out the big national distributors (e.g. Southern Wine and Spirits , (SWS)) from taking over the industry (and hard liquor monopoly) in Montana. Personally I find this logic curious as SWS own web-site lists a link to it’s Montana distribution network . What’s the big deal, isn’t 18 cases of wine enough? Certainly for me it is, but the larger issue is not how many cases I can get from a winery each year but rather getting greater variety and wines produced outside the US. According to the MDRLD the current law only allows wine produced (bottled) in a US winery to qualify for direct shipment. I would like to see this changed and I and others in Montana are working to revise our laws to provide for a free and open marketplace of wine regardless of its origin.
Some may wonder why they should care about Montana’s odd wine import laws, and unless you also happen to live in Montana you shouldn’t. The sad fact is , those living in other places have it far worse than I do. Several states don’t allow direct shipment at all, others, require it to be shipped though local distributors and still others only allow a certain gross limit (entire state quota) out of individual wineries. I have friends, in Michigan (which allows direct imports) for example, who have to order their wine before late January in order to get wine from some really popular wineries before the winery hits it quota. Why do we even have these archaic state laws? If the wine is shipped across state lines, it is in “Interstate Commerce” and clearly could/should be subject to Federal Law (which it is). If the state taxes get paid one would think that that a free and open market would be good for business overall.
The point of all this is my plea to get involved in your state and do your part to get the laws changed. Free the Grape has, free for the using, “draft” letters to legislators. They will even e-mail them for you. So make your voice heard and strike a blow for liberty, send a letter to your legislators and then follow up to make sure that they know you’re serious.
I’d love to hear what you think on this subject — Let the conversation begin.