Alcohol Shipping Explained (Sort of)

With the growth of internet commerce, everything has become readily available on the internet.  Google virtually anything your heart desires, and you can guarantee that at least three virtual stores will pop up.  And the same is true for wine.  Internet commerce has allowed small wine stores to grow into multi-million dollar companies virtually overnight (I’m sure you’ve all heard The Wine Library story owned by Gary Vaynerchuk).  But with this opportunity for growth comes a lot of legal and technical work on the store side and very complicated and often one sided shipping laws that vary not only from state to state but county to county and even in some cases city to city.  Here’s a brief overview about alcohol shipping in the U.S. and why we may or may not be able to ship our wine to you.

Who can ship wine?
Any business that possess a liquor license and operates in a state that allows alcohol shipments out of state can ship wine.  State governments limit both shipments out for alcohol and shipments in.  Most states that do not allow shipments in also do not allow shipments out as well (except for one – what we refer to as ‘the monopoly’ or more commonly known as New Jersey). Individuals are not allowed to ship wine or any kind of alcohol.   If you need to ship wine personally, we recommend visiting your local wine store (us of course) and arranging shipments through them.

What states still do not allow wine shipments?
Every year more and more states open their state up for consumers to receive direct shipments from wineries and online retailers.  Currently, 36 states allow wine shipments to consumers.  Freethegrapes.org, a non-profit website that is currently lobbying for the dissolution of all wine shipment restrictions, has a helpful map that clearly displays the ship to and non-ship to states.

Can I ship wine to myself or a friend?
No.  All the laws that currently allow wine shipments in allow it only through approved commercial shipping programs with UPS and Fedex.  Here is where it gets slightly more complicated, our boxing material is regulated, our rates our regulated, special signatures are required (receiver has to be over 21), and some states even require double taxation on alcohol shipments.

My state isn’t listed, will I ever be able to receive wine shipments?
Hopefully. A Supreme Court decision in 2005 (Granholm v. Heald) has been integral in opening up new states for wine shipments including Michigan, Florida and New York.  The case determined that states cannot discriminate between out-of-state and in-state wineries, basically doing so would create a monopolistic environment.  Therefore, any state that allows their in-state wineries to direct ship must do so on even terms for all, based on the US Commerce Clause.

I can receive wine shipments, GREAT!
Yes and no.  An ongoing battle, direct wine shipments to consumers are always under scrutiny.  Many wholesalers (distributors) of wine and beer feel that allowing wine to be sold directly and via internet threatens their business.  The spin usually has to do with how alcohol shipments could increase the amount of underage drinking or credit card fraud, but the real reason is the distributors do not want their business affected.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t have ordered $50 bottles of wine online in my youth.  Currently, Bill HR 5034 is seeking to once again prohibit alcohol shipments to consumers…this time the bill is lead by the beer distributors.  Visit Stop HR5034 on Facebook to learn more about the bill.

What’s the deal with New Jersey and Maryland?
The same lawsuit that opened most of the other states up to direct shipments is now working in favor for residents of New Jersey and Maryland.  Both states house in state wineries that makes the ruling in previous cases applicable, New Jersey also houses (and protects) some of the biggest online wine retailers in the country. (Wine Library)

What happens to me (or a retailer/winery) if they ship wine to me in a non-ship state?
That depends on the state.  Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you get a slap on the wrist, sometimes you are fined…but by law the state can charge you and/or the retailer with a felony.  Massachusetts and Utah (surprise surprise) take this pretty seriously and we’ve heard through the grapevine (no pun intended) that they will go after you with a felony charge and hefty fine the first time you are caught.  So I wouldn’t try it.

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Posted on January 21, 2011, in Wine and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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