Monday, April 23, 2018

(NOT) Coming To A Doorstep Near You

In the wrap up of 2017, internet consumers were listed among the losers in the year ahead.  In an age when diet-specific meals can be delivered to your door same day and laundry detergent can be re-ordered by pressing a button on the dispenser, state legislatures are taking a giant step backwards by outlawing wine ordered on the internet.

In fairness, while the spirit of that statement is true, it's not technically accurate.  Laws affecting wine are state-specific, so there are a number of different flavors or frameworks out there.  And laws affecting wine commerce are also often different from those governing beer and liquor.  Then there's the issue of where or who the wine is coming from as shipments from wineries (known as DTC or direct to consumer) are often treated differently from wine shipped by a retailer.  It can get complicated quickly.

Most alcohol laws have been on the books for decades, some even for centuries.  But laws are one thing, enforcement is another - and this is what's really changing, and changing right now.  Traditionally, the enforcement wings of states' alcohol bureaus have been undermanned, underfunded, and focused solely on the issues likely to get a bureaucrat in hot water, like underage drinking.  Well, thanks primarily to the efforts of the Wine and Beer Wholesalers Association, states are issuing cease-and-desists to major wine e-commerce retailers and requiring carriers like UPS and FedEx to report shipments from wineries and retailers.  This has been a long time coming, but (at least in Ohio), it's here.

This morning I attempted to order wine from a retailer in another state that I have done a lot of business with in years past.  They have a terrific portfolio of wines that are not available in my state, their prices are darn good, and their customer service is relentlessly affable.  My attempt to order was rebuffed with a simple message: "Please change your shipping address to a state we may ship to."  I emailed to inquire.  An excerpt of the reply follows.
Due to recent regulation changes, we are not be able to ship to your state at this time.  We encourage you to write your state legislatures and inform them you want free, open, access to the wine market.  We’ve made this very easy here: https://account.votility.com/enterprise/NAWR/ec/401     

Please know this change is not specific to us.  Very soon, you will see this restriction across all of your favorite wine retailers around the country.  You may read more here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/dining/drinks/interstate-wine-sales-shipping-laws.htm

Whether this is an extension of the age of protectionism or the symptoms of an industry trying desperately to resist innovation, the effects will no doubt result in a fresh wave of legal challenges.  Stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, I suppose we should all shop local?

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