© 1996 JDM Enterprises
HOLIDAY WINE SHIPPINGby Jerry D. Mead
For those who plan ahead, let me warn you of a gift-giving problem you may encounter...if you plan to give a gift of wine. The odds are very good that whatever you want to do is not legal.
I know, you thought you lived in a free country, with free and open trade between the states. Civics 101.
Well, many of the states have usurped those rights in the name of the 21st Amendment (the Repeal of Prohibition), which did give the states some limited rights...to remain dry and to ban transportation of alcoholic beverages to make that "dryness" possible.
Now, virtually every state has a ban on individuals either buying wine in another state via phone, mail or internet, and having it delivered to them...or even carrying wine home across a state line themselves, or sending it or taking it to a friend.
A few especially greedy states, Florida, Texas and New Jersey, to name three, have actually taken legal action against wineries and retail operations in other states. I say greedy, because they are trying to protect their local excise and sales taxes (which they are unable to do on any other legal mail order product) and the local monopoly systems for marketing wine.
No state, to my knowledge, has taken any action against individual consumers who are ordering wine from out of state, or receiving it as gifts from another.
I am not trying to dissuade you from shipping or transporting wine gifts over the holidays, because I think the bans are stupid (perhaps soon to be proven unconstitutional) laws that deserve to be flouted. But you should know you are breaking the law, and that there is some tiny risk. Worst case currently, your wine might be confiscated!
You should also know a few other things: It is illegal to ship wine through the U.S. Postal Service, even within and between states where it is otherwise legal.
If UPS or FedEx or whichever shipper you use asks what's in the box and you tell them wine, they may refuse to accept it. If you tell a little white lie and say "fruit juice" or "preserves" (wine is preserved grape juice after all), or glassware, you won't have a problem.
Make sure you ship in approved wine shipping cartons (many retailers can get them for you), or pack the stuff really well. A broken or leaky bottle will reveal your contents and often result in confiscation of the rest.
There are 13 states which have something called "Reciprocity Laws" (which actually started as an idea in this very column roughly 15 years ago), which say, "You can ship wine to my state, if I can ship wine to your's."
And the 13 states are: California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
For more information on reciprocity laws and the specific interstate shipping laws of all 50 states, I recommend two sources:
If you're a computer junky go to website: www.winelaw.org -- which is maintained by the legal staff at Wine Institute. Like most lawyers, they give information very cautiously.
Or you can write to: Coalition for Free Trade in Licensed Beverages (CFT), 244 California St. #300, San Francisco, CA 94111 (415) 362-1215 and ask for the research paper titled: "Interstate Shipping of Licensed Beverages - Q&A".
Speaking of CFT, if these laws irritate you a much as they do most wine (and freedom) lovers, it is an organization devoted to finding ways (including the taking of legal action) to reform these laws and provide consumers free, open and equal access to wineries and wine dealers throughout the U.S. There's even talk of going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
CFT is openly seeking support at every level, from concerned consumers and members of the trade. On the board of this non-profit organization are some of the top attorneys in the nation in the areas of alcoholic beverage, interstate shipping and constitutional law. You can contact CFT at the address or phone given above.
I still don't understand why I can ship Vidalia onions from Georgia, steaks from Omaha or Northwest fruit from Harry & David, but can't ship a bottle of wine. And the wine is the product with a track record for reducing heart disease!
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