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State Wine Laws Will Make You Laugh—Or Cry

By Stephen Eliot

I know that it was not intended to be a comedic piece, although its obvious humor could not be missed by its author, but I must admit to getting a good chuckle or two from my favorite wine blog of the past week.

Posted by the folks at Tablas Creek Winery and entitled “Our Crazy State Alcohol Laws: A Farce in Nine Acts” 1, the article addresses the much-discussed topic of restrictive state wine laws that are an endless source of frustration to winemakers and consumers alike. While legions of wine lovers scattered throughout the United States are acutely aware of direct-shipping protectionism on the part a good many states, the list of arcane laws governing the buying and selling of wine is a long and, at times, painfully funny one that occasionally defies comprehension.

Now, I am aware that those at Tablas Creek are merely shaking their fists at the sky in disgruntled annoyance, and that their ruminations are not part of some call-to-arms manifesto, but what they have to say about the utterly ridiculous restrictions faced by those in the business of wine should be of interest to wine lovers everywhere.

Among my favorites from their lengthy roster of complaints are:

Sampling restrictions. In Vermont, you are not allowed to sample multiple accounts on a single bottle of wine. In fact, you are not allowed to bring a sample of wine into a licensed establishment. If you, as a winery or distributor representative, want to show a wine to an account, you have to convince the account to buy the wine from the warehouse, then you have to buy it from the establishment, open it and taste it with the proprietor, and then repeat the same process at each stop in your work day. You can imagine how well this works.”

The Johnstown Flood Tax. In Pennsylvania, which sells all its wine and liquor through state-run stores, all alcohol sales are assessed an 18% tax earmarked to pay for repairs from the Johnstown Flood. Which happened in 1936.”

State control. In Wyoming, you are not allowed to sell a wine without being with a state-licensed broker. And by sell, I mean talk about. You aren't really selling the wine anyway; the state of Wyoming is the only licensed wholesaler.”

Franchise laws. In some twenty states (AR, CT, DE, GA, ID, KS, MA, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, NM, NJ, NV, OH, TN, VA, VT, and WI) once you've chosen a distributor to represent you, you cannot leave that distributor and move to another even if they perform badly, lose their key personnel, or are purchased by another firm.”

If this kind of silliness has gotten in the way of your enjoyment of wine, I am sure that you are not laughing, but at least know that those of us whose freedom of access and choice is largely unfettered are shaking our fists at the sky with you even if we cannot wholly stifle our smiles.

And you should also consider joining the American Wine Consumers Council, a consumer- based non-profit board that works to change these arcane and irrational wine laws.


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