Bill Would Bring Vino to Your Doorstep

Other than Delaware, only Utah, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama entirely prohibit shipping wine to consumers.

Legislation just released by a State House panel could make Delaware the 45thstate to allow the shipping of shiraz to your home with the click of a button.

The House Administration Committee last week approved a bill that would allow Delawareans to join more than 90 percent of Americans in ordering wine for home delivery.

House Bill 165 would permit wineries to ship wine directly to consumers in the comfort of their home bars. Delaware is presently among a small group of states prohibiting home wine shipment. 

According to the Wine Institute, a trade group representing more than 1,000 wineries, 44 states currently allow some form of direct-to-consumer wine shipping.  Neighboring Pennsylvania and Maryland have enacted direct shipment laws in recent years.

Other than Delaware, only Utah, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama entirely prohibit the practice.

House Bill 165 would allow wineries to ship wine directly to consumers.

Delawareans looking to load up on wine not found on the shelves of their local stores can only legally obtain it through a process that channels all alcoholic beverage sales through a three-tier system of distributors, wholesalers, and retailers that was established in the wake of Prohibition.

According to Dover sources, in addition to the costs added at each stage, many of the more than 8,700 wineries in the U.S. are not handled by a distributor. As a result, their products are difficult, if not impossible, for Delawareans to buy under the current system.

State Rep. Deborah Hudsonsays “the current system doesn’t work.”  Hudson says that even when retailers have the ability to order a particular wine, they often have little interest or incentive to provide the service.

The most recent version of the bill, authored by State Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, contains the following provisions:

  • Require carriers, like FedEx and UPS, to obtain special licenses to handle wine shipments.
  • Mandate special labeling of the packages.
  • Not allow direct sales if the wine can be acquired by a Delaware retailer.
  • Require licensing and registration of wineries shipping their products to Delaware.
  • Imposed the same state alcohol taxes levied on retail sales.
  • Restrict deliveries to adults over the age of 21 that signed for the package.
  • Limit households to no more than three cases of wine per year.

During this week’s committee hearing, Rep. Baumbach told legislators that his proposal is needed. “Wine is being shipped illegally into Delaware today,” he said. “This bill would replace that current undesirable status quo.”

Harvest Ridge Winery doesn’t like disappointing customers who would like the winery to ship cases directly to family and friends.

Chuck Nunan, the owner of Harvest Ridge Winery near Marydel, said Delaware wineries are taking a hit, especially during the holidays. “We have people calling that ask: ‘Can you ship my favorite wine to a friend?’ And I have to say, ‘no I can’t.'”

Len McCarthy, representing Delaware’s unionized distribution workers, offered testimony opposing the measure.  “We feel it will definitely have an adverse effect on our members,” he said.

Sara Cakebread, a Delawarean who became part of the Napa Valley wine-making family, said direct shipment laws have been successful elsewhere. “Not one state [that has adopted this] has made any effort to repeal it,” she told the committee.

Although somewhat counterintuitive, impact studies conducted in Maryland and Virginia found that wine sales at traditional retailers rose following the enactment of direct shipment laws. Researchers speculated that the effect might be because the law exposes new consumers to wines, sparking an interest that benefits local merchants.

“I would not be standing here … if I thought one person would lose their job as a result of this [bill],” Ms. Cakebread said.

The bill cleared the committee on a unanimous vote and can now be acted on by the full chamber.

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