Wineries and retailers in Virginia are jubilant as the state becomes the 23rd US state to allow direct shipment of wine from out-of-state wineries to consumers.

Seventy years after the repeal of Prohibition US wine consumers are still feeling the restraints of severe regulation of distribution and sales of wine and spirits throughout the country.

But consumers across the nation are bringing their states’ laws to court on grounds that it is unconstitutional according the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

According to Jeremy Benson, who heads Free the Grapes!, a consumer advocate group, the decision in Virginia is a milestone. He told decanter.com, ‘this is a boon to wine consumers in Virginia, but it also greatly benefits the flourishing Virginia wineries which are now allowed to ship wine directly to 22 other US states. Their market has just exploded.’

Virginia merchants also applaud the new legislation to take effect on 1 July. Jennifer Witebsky, owner of Daily Planet Wine Shop in Alexandria said, ‘Everyone benefits because consumers can order the wines they want from out-of-state wineries, while still supporting their wine shops because we have great wines readily available without the hefty shipping charges’.

The direct shipment battle still rages in other states thanks to the 21st amendment to the Constitution, which repealed Prohibition in 1933 while giving individual states the power to regulate the sale and distribution of alcohol. In seven US states, including Forida and Maryland, it is a felony for wineries to ship direct.

Gordon Murchie, executive director of the Virginia Wineries Association, told decanter.com the ruling was a major victory, ‘but there is still a lot of work to be done.’

Last month the wine industry hired former US solicitor general Kenneth Starr – best-known for pursuing former president Bill Clinton through the courts over the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals – to represent it.

This should mean the issue will be heard in front of the Supreme Court which would decide on the validity of the 21st amendment, Murchie said.

On 5 May the predominantly Mormon state of Utah relaxes some of its liquor laws, considered to be the most severe in the country.

Under the new law, patrons at restaurants will be able to have two drinks in front of them at the same time. Under the current legislation, only one drink was allowed to be served at a time, which meant customers wanting to have a glass of red wine with their second course could not order it until they finished the white they were drinking.

Jessie Nutting, manager of Salt Lake City’s Olive Garden, said, ‘The law was supposed to slow down alcohol consumption but it had the reverse effect of enticing people to drink faster to finish their first drink’.

Written by Kerin O’Keefe16 April 2003