New York State is set to allow wineries outside the state to bypass New York wholesalers and retailers and to ship wine directly to adult residents.

The new law, which New York growers view as unexpectedly liberal, would allow New Yorkers to buy up to 36 cases of wine per producer yearly.

The law would apply only to 13 states that practice reciprocity and permit New York’s 218 producers to ship wine directly to their residents.

‘This opens New York wines to California, Oregon and Washington,’ said James Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.

In the Wine Press, his online newsletter, Mr. Trezise commented that the legislation would ‘transform New York from a regional industry to a national player.’

New York ranks third behind California and Washington in vineyard acres planted and annual grape tonnage, and fourth behind Oregon in total number of wineries. It is America’s second-largest wine market after California.

The law, which Governor George E Pataki is expected to sign soon, would also permit New York wineries to sell 36 cases a year directly to each adult New York resident.

New York’s legislation is a result of the US Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 decision on May 16.

The court ruled that New York and Michigan laws that allowed inside-the-state shipping to consumers by the states’ own producers but that discouraged interstate shipping by outsiders were unconstitutional. Everybody ships or nobody ships, the court declared.

This decision sent a message to states with similar practices, and in early June Connecticut’s lawmakers passed a bill that permitted the state’s residents to receive shipments straight from wineries outside and inside the state. Under it, consumers could purchase up to five cases every 60 days.

In Michigan, champions of direct shipping hope that New York’s approach will add credence to their fight against new legislation intended to ban all shipments and to alter a law governing distribution.

The bills, pushed by wholesalers in both houses of the legislature, would stop both inside-the-state shipments and long-allowed distribution by Michigan producers. But competing bills would permit direct shipping from the outside and inside and also preserve wineries’ right to distribute their own products.

Michigan wholesalers argue that a ban is necessary to prevent minors from receiving alcohol by mail. Their opponents call the argument a protectionist smoke screen whose purpose is to perpetuate monopoly privileges.

In a 21 June editorial, The Detroit Free Press quoted the office of a state senator who favors all shipping as saying that in the 31 years Michigan wineries have shipped within the state, no violations for sales to minors have ever been cited.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York