Thursday, February 17, 2005

Direct Sales To Consumers Before the High Court

Summer before last we were touring the wine country of California enjoying the beauty and the fruits, of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. If you’re a wine enthusiast, this is better than a trip to the Superbowl; if you’re an aspiring enophile, this is Nirvana. From one tasting room to another, it’s nice to have a designated driver for the day. Spitting may be fine for tasting 100 wines for review, but soaking up the southern California rays, on a blanket of grass with fresh dairy cheeses, Italian sausages and a baguette that cracks when broken revealing the supple underbelly of velvety dough, mandates wine that is swallowed.

But the reality of greed crashed the reverie of paradise when I inquired about joining a wine club at one winery which would ship out the wine or wines of the month to your home. Problem is we are one of 24 other states that prohibit the interstate shipping of wine to private residents. In other words, a direct sale from winery to consumer is illegal. The reason? Local wine merchants want to protect their territory and limit the competition from such outside sources. Understandable, but in most other sectors of commerce, such laws have been viewed as monopolistic and consequently reversed.

The truth is that such sales would have a negligible effect on local merchants. I would still spend the same on wine at my local retailers that I would otherwise. With the cost of shipping today it wouldn’t be cost effective to buy wine that is locally available from a mail-order enterprise. I would just be allowed to seek wine that is not available in our locale.

So some savvy and equally disgruntled lover of wine filed suit somewhere challenging the laws that regulate this practice. In the last session of the United States Supreme Court, the issues were presented. From observers, it would appear that such laws are not long for this world. It is expected that this Summer, the court will rule to dismantle state laws that make such sales illegal. I can’t wait! Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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