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Merchants eye new shipping laws with mixture of complacency and apprehension

US state governments have been busy finalising changes to their wine commerce laws to allow direct shipment of out-of-state wines

California vintners – who make the vast majority of American wine – are praising decisions by Florida last Thursday and Idaho on Tuesday permitting direct out-of-state wine shipments, and giving consumers greater freedom to order wine directly from the Internet or from wineries they visit out of state.

‘This is a victory for consumer choice, fair trade and US wineries,’ California Wine Institute president Robert Koch said on the Institute’s website. ‘We are pleased that Florida has acted in favour of its citizens by allowing them access to the wines of their choosing.’

These states join New York, Texas and Michigan in decisions which followed a landmark Supreme Court ruling last May that banned restrictions on out-of-state winery direct shipments to consumers in a given state.

State wine merchants stand to lose customers from the liberalisation, but many feel their trade will not be damaged.

‘Transport companies are putting so many restrictions on this, that it has been very difficult to have wine shipped the way it was foreseen. There is an unfounded fear throughout the country of the sale of wines to minors, which has resulted in a tremendous burden to obtain adult signatures on every single out-of-state wine order,’ Michael Aaron of Sherry-Lehman, a leading New York retailer, told decanter.com.

The new Florida and Idaho laws also include adult signature requirements for all out-of-state shipments, and other restrictions may reduce the effect of the newly gained out-of-state market access.

In Idaho, for example, out-of-state wineries would be allowed to ship only up to 24 cases per year directly to customers, only for personal consumption – ie no restaurant sales are allowed – and only if wineries buy a $50 Idaho permit.

In New York, it is a question of convenience and price, Aaron said. ‘Wine shops in New York are highly competitive, so will a consumer buy from six or seven wineries and pay for six or seven shipments instead? Chances are that a consumer who visited a winery in Napa and had some wine directly delivered to him, will still buy it locally, when available.’

But there is still apprehension. Robert Buchholz, owner of Florida direct mail company Taste of California, said, ‘I do not know how this is going to affect my business. As long as we are also able to ship wine out to other states, this will be fair. Otherwise it will be a hindrance.’

But one Floridian was very happy: ‘I used to always be so frustrated when going to Napa and then being told by the winemaker that he could not ship me an order. Well, I guess that problem is solved now,’ Palm Beach resident Bessie Zaras said.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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