Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the US geographically, but the state’s direct wine shipping law presents BIG problems for wine lovers. For a state founded on religious and political freedom, We’re baffled (well, not really because we know why it is the way it is). The state prevents wine lovers from shipping wine without “physically” visiting a winery and in doing so impedes commerce.
In 2001, Rhode Island changed from a state requiring consumer permits to one requiring an on-site purchase on behalf of the consumer, a huge step backwards. In the past, the state allowed limited wine shipping to individuals with a permit for personal use. Today, the law states:
- A Customer must conduct the sale on-site (at the winery) for the wine to be shipped directly to them. This makes it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to order wine from out of state.
- The law (S752/H5295) specifically mentions out-of-state wineries stating, “it shall be unlawful for any person in the business of selling intoxicating beverages in another state or country to ship or cause to be shipped any intoxicating beverage directly to any Rhode Island resident who does not hold a valid wholesaler license issued by the state of Rhode Island.” The legislation applies to direct wine shipping within the boundaries of Rhode Island as well. Even in a state as small as Rhode Island, home delivery of wine could increase wine sales for in-state wineries, but this is not allowed unless the sale is made on site at the winery. That means less wine sales, less tax revenue from those wine sales and less customer choice.
A common legal test is to ask what state interest does this legislation support? To quote the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy association of California wineries, “Does a state have a legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from the wide net of intemperance? States may have an interest in protecting its citizens from harmful products by controlling its distribution, and alcoholic beverages can be abused. But to say that a product is legitimately in the state because it went through an established state distribution system while the identical product is illegitimate simply because a consumer received it directly from the producer who just so happens to have sent it from another state raises questions. What state interest is being served?”
The language of Rhode Island’s legislation could not be any more clear in favor of the wholesaler. It is so protectionist that it must call out the fact that the wine is being delivered for “non-business purposes”. The spirit of the law is not to protect the rights of the consumer. It is to protect the monopoly established in favor of the wholesaler.
As we review each state, the lack of uniform laws with regard to direct-to-consumer wine shipping becomes clearer. It’s as if we live in 50 different countries! There is no unified system of laws that allows wine commerce to be free flowing. Instead, we are subject to a tangle of laws (protectionist trade barriers) where the state can determine because of the 21st amendment how alcohol is sold within and across its borders. The wholesale lobby with its strangle-hold grip on legislators nationwide keeps this in place. Legislation was proposed that would create a direct shipping permit and allow up to 24 cases of wine per resident per year. However, back in 2011, the Senate Special Legislation Committee voted to hold the measure for further study.
Remove the Shackles on Wine Lovers.
In the tradition of independence and dissent, we need Rhode Islanders and wine lovers everywhere need to take action to modify these outdated laws. Visit www.freethegrapes.com to sign up for their informative Enewsletter and learn about the regulations in your state and the states where you ship wine. Stay connected to the action on Facebook.
What does this means for the Traveling Vineyard and you?
The Traveling Vineyard creates local jobs and generates local and state tax revenues in every state to which we direct ship our wines. Our local Independent Wine Consultants market Traveling Vineyard wines through our innovative free home wine tasting program and introduce our winery products to residents via local residents in each state. Our Independent Consultants love their home- based businesses marketing wines. We only wish that we could put good people to work in Rhode Island like we do in 33 other states.