U.S. Wines Stuck in Their Home States

Tyler Colman of DoctorVino.com explains why it's hard for wine to cross state lines.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Thanks, Korva. So these days, you can buy pretty much anything you want online and have it shipped to you - concert tickets, car parts, even medication. But if you've got your eye on a rare Pinot Grigio, let's say, from a tiny Napa Valley vineyard, it's a lot more complicated. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to get any wine shipped to you at all. The laws governing direct-to-consumer shipments of wine differ in each state, creating, really, this maze of regulations that most people really can't figure out.

So being the wine appreciators that we are here at THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, we've turned to Tyler Colman, a.k.a. Dr. Vino for some answers. Tyler blogs at drvino.com and is the author of the upcoming book "Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wines That We Drink." Hey, Tyler.

Mr. TYLER COLMAN (Wine Blogger, Author): Hey, how's it going?

MARTIN: Going well. Thanks for being here this morning.

Mr. COLMAN: Yes, indeed. Big news day.

MARTIN: Big news day, yeah. Well, we're going to not talk about sports or politics, and we're going to talk about wine.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Works for me. I don't see a problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLMAN: (unintelligible) politics.

MARTIN: So Tyler, there is this white wine that I discovered last summer when I was staying with my brother and his family in Boulder, Colorado, and I cannot find it for the life of me in New York. But I know - it's called Evolution. I know it's made at a winery in Oregon, and I know that this retailer in Boulder sells it. Now, can I go online right now and order some of this wine and have it shipped to me?

Mr. COLMAN: Yes, you could, actually, because New York state has a reciprocal agreement with Oregon, so that we, as New York residents, can enjoy the fruits of the vine from Oregon here. So - but it's not like that in every state, though.

MARTIN: Explain to us, what does the law say right now?

Mr. COLMAN: Well, the law is very unclear is the best way to -best sort of summary comment, because all 50 states have different rules and laws regarding the "importation," quote-unquote, of wine into their boundaries. And so this dates back to the repeal of prohibition, when each state was granted the right to set their own rules, and so that's something that's continued to this day.

MARTIN: So, basically, the online distributors are saying this isn't fair. We're getting the short end of the stick here, because it's impeding our business. Because you can't possibly -you have to make sure that each state that you do business with has a reciprocal agreement with the other state that you're trying to ship it to?

Mr. COLMAN: That's right. Yeah. It's actually - as you said in the lead, it's - we are able to buy books and computers online, but wine is very difficult. And it has shown a lot of - not a strong growth in the Internet because of these laws. But the problem is because of local, in-state distributors. So it's the retailers who want to sell online across the country and make a free market for wine and so that we can order things like - in Oregon, white wine, and - no matter where you live. But it's the in-state distributors in all the 50 states that control, essentially, the passage of wine through their states.

And so they want to make sure that the wine comes into their warehouse and then gets sold out of their warehouse, presumably to a store, in state. So they're actually the ones that are against - primarily the ones against the Internet as a channel for wine sales.

STEWART: And we should step back and say this stems from -there's a Supreme Court decision in 2005 that says states have to allow wineries to ship wine in and out of state, but not the retailers. And are the retailers fighting this now?

Mr. COLMAN: Yeah, some retailers are - the specialty wine retailers association is a grouping of small independent retailers who sell mostly quality wines. And so they - those are the wines that are most in demand across state lines, because they're hard to find and produce in limited quantities. And so, yeah, but the - if I could just back up to the 2005 Supreme Court decision.

What happened prior to that is that if you went on vacation to Oregon and liked the wine at the winery, you couldn't have it shipped back to New York because only - you could only do that from wineries in Long Island, safe to say. Or the Finger Lakes, that is to say, in-state wineries. And so in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that that was illegal to have a double standard, where you could buy wine from in-state wineries but not out of state wineries. So they said that that had to be resolved. Either the states had to open up completely or close down completely and not allow…

MARTIN: It sounds like, Tyler, from what I've been reading about this, that people have found ways - lots of loopholes to get out of this, going so far as to actually - going through this process where you transfer the title of the wine that someone from New York buys in California, transfer the title in California so that then it's essentially their product that they're shipping to themselves. If they're going to such extremes to make this happen, why not just change the law? Eric Asimov, in his column which I though was really good last week in "New York Times" wrote that this the equivalent of turning your neighbor in for double parking, that these laws are broken by people all the time.

Mr. COLMAN: That's right, yeah. Well, enforcement is an issue. And so it is - there haven't been any fines handed out in this case, but everyone - a lot of retailers are afraid of that, and so some retailers - big retailers in some states do not ship out of state, or they limit the number of states that they do ship to. So it's a tremendous gray area, and so some stores - some retailers do ship wine, and some consumers take advantage of that. And others are a little bit more gun shy, and they don't push the limits of it.

But yeah, it is - what happened with the wine.com thing was that they had actually ordered wine from 29 shops to Washington State where they do business, and they do business through the distributors - the in-state distributors. And so they ordered wine from 29 retailers that don't do business through the in-state distributors and just send the product and the wine. And so they then turned over the names of all those violators to the state authorities in Washington.

MARTIN: Wine.com was a big, fat tattletale.

Mr. COLMAN: Yes, it was indeed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLMAN: They didn't win a lot of love in the wine blogosphere for that.

MARTIN: Well, clearly some issues that still have to be worked out. Tyler Colman blogs at drvino.com. His book "Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink." It will be available in July. Tyler, thanks for talking to us this morning.

Mr. COLMAN: Thanks so much.

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