Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Are You in a Good State of Wine?



A bottle of wine is my go-to gift when I want to say “Happy Birthday,” “I love/miss you,” or “Thank you for hosting us.”  But shipping that gift across state lines can be a source of frustration. I cannot, for instance, send wine from a California retailer to my sister in New Jersey, as I would love to do at holidays, because the law does not allow it. This is one of the reasons NJ is not such a good state for wine and earned a D+ rating on a recent survey that ranks states on their friendliness to wine consumers. 


Where I live, I can walk into any grocery, liquor, or specialty food store on any day of the week, purchase a bottle of wine (provided they sell it), and ship it to anywhere in-state. I can also bring a bottle of wine into many restaurants. I’m in one of the most wine consumer-friendly states in the country – California – which earned an A+ in the American Wine Consumer Coalition’s (AWCC) report, Consuming Concerns, The 2013 State-by-State Report Card on Consumer Access to Wine.


The AWCC report examines and compares the 50 states based on how friendly their laws are to wine consumers, concluding that many states maintain laws that make access to wine difficult and inconvenient. The report focused on the following six specific topics of interest to wine consumers, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Ability to have wine shipped to their home from any winery (most important)
  2. No State monopoly on the sale of wine
  3. Ability to have wine shipped to their home from any wine retailer
  4. The ability to purchase wine on Sundays
  5. The ability to bring their own wine into a restaurant to drink with their meal
  6. The ability to purchase wine in grocery stores (least important)

The majority of states have a three-tier system for getting wine to consumers, consisting of 1) the winery, 2) the distributor/wholesaler, and 3) the consumer. With this in mind, I was curious how Point No. 1 affected the “garagiste” wine makers I wrote about in my last column (“Let the Harvesting and Festivals Begin!”) These are the small, artisanal winemakers who are not likely to be represented by major wine wholesalers, therefore reliant on the ability to ship their wine directly to consumers, whether in-state or across state lines.


Wine wholesalers are not required to represent any winery that desires to see its wines sold in the state. “As a result,” states the report, “a state’s retail wine shops have access to only a tiny percentage of the wines available from the 7,000+ wineries in the United States since wholesalers tend only to represent a very small number of wine brands.” But if consumers are allowed to purchase and have shipped directly to them wines from in-state and out-of-state wineries, “the state provides wine consumers with access to nearly any domestic wine they desire. Without this privilege, wine consumers are stuck purchasing what wholesalers bring into the state and see their selection severely diminished.” 


That’s too bad, since, as a wine writer, I often invite readers to try my latest find and they may be missing out on this privilege due to state regulations that are often based on arcane Prohibition-Era laws, bolstered by strong lobbies funded by large distributorships. 


“In our tasting room we meet a lot of people from all over the country,” says Victor Abascal, owner and winemaker of Vines on the Marycrest (www.vinesonthemarycrest.com) winery in Paso Robles, Calif. “We love if we can we ship to them, but if the customer lives in a state that does not allow us to ship, we simply cannot as it’s a felony to do so.” 


While the no-ship laws don’t have a significant effect on Vines on the Marycrest, whose clientele is approximately 35% out-of-state, the paperwork involved in shipping to them can be a “real pain in the neck,” says Abascal.


Per the AWCC report, states doing the best job for wine consumers, and garnering an A+ rating, are: California, District of Columbia, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Virginia. The not-so-good states, with F grades, are: Colorado, Tennessee, Indiana, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah.

You can check to see if you live in a "good state of wine" by downloading the report at www.wineconsumers.org/news-and-info/research/. There's lots of good food for thought there, and I suggest you pair it with a bottle of your favorite wine while reading it!

Until next time, Cheers!

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