President Bush has just signed into law a new Act allowing American wine buyers to ship wine between states.

The Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, which became law on Sunday, includes a provision allowing wine purchased during a winery visit to be shipped to another state.

State laws prohibiting shipment of wine from state to state have been the bugbear of wine buyers for years. A Texan visiting a California winery, for example, has up to now been unable to take any wine home with him.

While the laws were archaic, they were prompted by old-fashioned protectionism rather than by temperance: with out-of-state shipments banned, state wine monopolies could reap the profits. This should change as restrictive state legislation is eroded.

In the 17 states affected by the new law, wine purchased in a winery by people of legal age, for personal use only, may be carried into the state.

In 11 states, including New York, Utah and Pennsylvania, the law remains unchanged. Depending on state law, limited amounts of alcohol can only be brought in from another state under permit or after various taxes have been pre-paid. In some states all shipments are prohibited. Mississippi state law, for example, prohibits all personal transport of alcohol.

23 states already allow direct shipments.

‘We are pleased Congress has formally endorsed limited direct shipment of wine and the provision is now law,’ Robert Koch, senior vice president of the Wine Institute of California said. ‘This is a practical and responsible solution to help winery visitors get their wine home.’

Wine merchants and other professionals welcome the change in the law. ‘It will increase the quantity and quality of wine available, and should make for more informed comsumers,’ Justin Christoph of New York wine auction house Morrell and Company told decanter.com.

He also said that while the average consumer probably didn’t pay much attention to the restrictions, the change was ‘part of a larger process.’

‘People are slowly beginning to realise wine is healthy and not something to be feared and prohibited. It’s a misfortune that wine is always grouped with guns and drugs.’

Decanter’s New York correspondent Howard G Goldberg also applauds the change in the law, calling protectionism outdated ‘nonsense’.

‘If I want a new white terrycloth bathrobe, I can buy it from a California firm and have it shipped to my apartment. But if I want a Cakebread sauvignon blanc from Napa to drink while wearing that robe on Sunday, I have to buy it downstairs. I wonder why wine distributors don’t oppose bathrobe shipments, too. Protectionism is yesterday’s illogical nonsense.’

Written by Adam Lechmere5 November 2002