Monday, October 3, 2016

Direct-ship wine gets test case in Pennsylvania

regulationHere's a scenario: You were on vacation in France or Italy and found this quaint little winery that has been in the same family for generations and produces some tasty varieties, so you plan to order some of the wines directly from them when you get home.

Forget it.

Here's another: You're planning a wine and cheese party and want to make it a genuine European theme.

The cheese part is easy. Anything you can't find at your local shops can be ordered online and shipped directly to you. The wine part? That's a different story.

In the U.S., it isn't legal for foreign makers to directly ship alcoholic products to individual consumers. You can order foods, clothing, books, jewelry, techie items ... almost anything you'd like. But, alcoholic beverages have to go through a U.S. importer who -- after adding its own profit to the price -- sells to your local wine and spirits purveyor who -- after adding yet more to the price -- sells it to you.

Now, however, under a new law that took effect this summer and vastly changed the rules on sale of alcohol in previously uber-stodgy Pennsylvania, that may change. Among other things, what commonly is called Act 39 not only got rid of Pennsylvania's prohibition on direct wine shipments, it allows any winery, foreign or domestic, to apply for direct shipping permits.

Currently, more than 460 U.S. wineries quickly filed while no foreign wineries have, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. But it's only a matter of time until wineries in Europe, South America, Australia or elsewhere will want to increase their market in places where consumers would be happy to skip the expensive layering. And, it wouldn't be a major leap of imagination to think that alcohol regulators and politicians in other states will be keeping a close watch on Pennsylvania's experience as what is, de facto, the test case for everyone.

Trib Total Media, which operates in the Pittsburgh area, has a very thorough analysis of the situation. Go here to read it.

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