Every time a bottle or case of wine is shipped to my house, someone 21 years or older, meaning me or my wife and not my children, must be home to sign for it. If not, I get one of those annoying “door tags” from shippers like FedEx saying that they tried unsuccessfully to deliver a package containing an alcoholic beverage and that they will try again. This is aimed, of course, at keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors and, while inconvenient, it is completely justifiable. I am reminded of this as I read about the latest attempt in Congress to weaken the Supreme Court’s landmark 2005 Granholm decision, which made it easier for wineries to ship directly to customers outside their states. A House bill (HR5034) would give the states more power to regulate the shipment of wine beyond their borders -- in part, it is said, to control underage drinking but more importantly, it seems, to protect the three-tier distribution system that includes wine wholesalers, who are bypassed by direct-t0-consumer wine shipments. You may or may not be surprised to learn that the bill was crafted by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents both wine and beer wholesalers, as Wine Spectator and others point out. There is a big effort by some of those opposed to the bill to kill it, including a Facebook campaign and a video.
Underage drinking, the specter of an epidemic of alcoholism --these are among the timeworn arguments, the spin, really, that those who oppose direct wine sales use to defend the country’s traditional distribution system, which, they argue, is threatened by direct wine shipments. A couple of larger points come to mind. Let’s not forget that while the distributors are still vitally important to moving most wine in this country, there are many small wineries out there that are, in fact, too small to generate interest by wholesalers and therefore rely on direct shipping, a right they were granted by the United States Supreme Court. Let’s also not forget that controlling underage drinking begins at home. My children understand that it is wrong, and they understand because I have told them so. I feel they are protected adequately, without more legislation by Congress and certainly without advocacy on their behalf, thank you very much, from America’s wine wholesalers.