News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 1, 2013

GRAPE SENSE: Ridiculous, confusing wine laws only about greed

Howard W. Hewitt
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — Anyone who has tried to buy wine at a winery, take a special bottle to a restaurant or buy wine on a Sunday knows Indiana’s laws are confusing and restrictive.

Neighboring states aren’t much better off. Indiana and Kentucky prevent direct winery to consumer shipping while Illinois, Michigan and Ohio allow it. All four of those states allow Sunday sales while Indiana does not.

The American Wine Consumer Coalition, Washington D.C. issued a report and grade for all 50 states. It’s called Consuming Concerns: The 2013 State-by-State Report Card on Consumer Access to wine.

The forward in the report bemoans the existence of laws “from the 1930s” that are still “in place in most states, despite a cultural, economic and commercial reality that is starkly different (today).”

David Honig, a wine writer, publisher of one of the country’s biggest online wine magazine — Palate Press — and attorney, says the laws make no sense unless viewed through the lens of distributor protection.

“A wine lover can have their favorite bottled shipped to them, but only if (a) they’ve been to the vineyard or winery in person, and (b) left a copy of their Indiana driver’s license, and (c) the winery has an Indiana shipping license, and (d) only if the winery does not have a distributor in the state,” Honig said. “These laws don’t protect minors from their plans to set aside the usual adolescent need for instant gratification to order an expensive vintage for delivery in a week or two. Nor do they protect Hoosiers from bathtub gin or other adulterated hooch. They don’t even keep the streets, playgrounds and schoolyards safe from Hillside Select swilling bums, hiding their $250 bottles in plain brown bags. They protect distributors, the top tier in the three-tier system, from suffering the indignity of seeing somebody enjoy a bottle of wine without getting a cut.”

By now you may have guessed, Indiana got an F and so did Kentucky. Michigan and Ohio came in with D grades while Illinois scored highest in the Midwest with a C.

The scoring standards were: winery to consumer shipping; retailer to consumer shipping; grocery store wine sales, Sunday wine sales, and bring your own bottle to restaurants laws.

Who scored near the top? Not surprisingly, California led the list followed by Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Indiana is joined by 11 other states on the stinkers list including Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah.

The hodgepodge of laws is largely the embarrassing work of state legislatures. In Indiana, the distributors’ lobby has controlled, or owned, our voting representatives.

I’ve heard more than one distributor say there is little problem with allowing direct shipping because that is such a small portion of the wine-buying market. The hypocrisy is extraordinary even for state legislators.

Write the representative in your state. The laws are ridiculous. Consumers can buy almost anything through the mail and have it shipped to their doorstep — clothing, books, medicine, furniture, even pornography. This has nothing to do with under-age drinking — a favorite ploy of the distributors. You have to have a valid credit cart and a person 21 years of age available to sign when delivered to buy wine for direct shipping.

It’s about greed.

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about value wine every-other-week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at: www.howardhewitt.net.