In 2006, a law was passed that barred many such shipments into Massachusetts but it was later ruled unconstitutional, a decision affirmed by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Since that decision on January 2010, several efforts have been instituted to create a legal framework allowing out of state winery shipments. To date, despite the passionate advocacy of groups such as Free The Grapes, all such efforts have failed but I continue to have hope that will change one day.
Currently, House Bill 294, authored by Representative Theodore Speliotis, is in the committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure and it is hoped that it will receive a hearing. Dave Andelman, of The Phantom Gourmet and Restaurant & Business Alliance, seems to feel that House Bill 294 is wrong and has offered his own plan in a column, A Better Way To Buy Out Of State Wine, in the Metrowest Daily News. I believe Andelman's three-point plan is unduly burdensome, overly protective and based on inaccurate information.
Andelman first point states that out of state wineries should pay a $1000 licensing fee rather than the proposed $100. He states this fee would be comparable to New Jersey but that is incorrect. The New Jersey licensing fee actually is a spectrum, dependent on the production level of the winery, and ranges from $63-$938. So Andelman has provided inaccurate information concerning New Jersey's license fees.
Andelman also sees this fee as a potential means of revenue for the state, yet there is no rationale for why that should be the case. He offers no evidence that a $100 licensing fee would be inadequate to administer the cost of the program. A $1000 fee would be burdensome on small, boutique wineries which already have limited resources. That is the rationale behind basing licensing fees on the size of a winery, to not overburden the small producers.
In his next point, Andelman wants to restrict wineries to shipping one case per month to a household. The current bill allows each household adult to order 2 cases per month. He tries to make the current plan seem scary by alleging a household could order over a million bottles of wine. While technically it is possible, the chance is so remote as to be silly. The average person in the U.S. purchases only about 14 bottles per year. The vast majority of the more dedicated wine lovers still probably own less than 1000 bottles. So Andelman's worries are essentially baseless.
Andelman's suggestion prevents consumers from ordering multiple cases of wine from a single winery at a single time. Consumers generally do not order a case each month of a wine they desire. They usually want to buy it at a single time, to ensure they get the wine before it sells out. They might buy two to three cases of a wine, and then may not buy from that same winery for six months or more. There is no valid reason to restrict sales to a single case per month. That would be an undue burden, based on the usual purchasing practices of wine lovers.
Finally, Andelman alleges that shipped wine should have to be sent to a liquor store, to protect against underage drinking. He mentions that a 20-20 story and a North Carolina University study proved that minors could easily buy alcohol on the Internet. Yet he does not provide a link to either the story or study, or provide any of the actual facts from these two sources. How reliable is this information? Where was the study conducted? Does the study envision a similar system as proposed by House Bill 294? These allegations seem more like fear mongering.
The fact is that wine stores have had plenty of problems in selling alcohol to minors. As one example, the city of Haverhill conducted a series of stings on bars, restaurants and liquor stores and 25% of those places were caught selling to a minor. You can find plenty of other examples of liquor stores which have sold to minors. Yes, we need to ensure minors cannot purchase alcohol but Andelman's plan would not guarantee that.
Andelman's plan also includes that a consumer would have to pay a "nominal" processing fee to the liquor store. Could a liquor store refuse to accept shipments? Who would regulate the amount of the processing fee? Would liquor stores want the added paperwork of processing these shipments? We should not place this added burden on liquor stores. Andelman though seems to believe this would help liquor stores who "..may be forced to terminate employees if their sales fall much further after the increased amount of liquor licenses which have been issued, including large liquor sections at supermarkets." How is that so?
He fails to explain how it would help liquor stores. They would receive only a "nominal" fee so that shouldn't be enough to make up for any alleged lost sales. He provides no evidence or statistics on whether local liquor stores have seen decreased sales or not. He fails to provide any evidence that out of state shipments would significantly affect small liquor stores.
Dave Andelman needs to provide far more details, evidence and support for his plan as currently it is lacking in many aspects. He has yet to offer valid arguments or a valid alternative against House Bill 294. And his initial inaccurate information about New Jersey licensing fees casts doubt on his own research and credibility.
I will continue to side with Free The Grapes in supporting House Bill 294.