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Proposed Legislation Offers a Glimmer of Hope for Massachusetts Wine Shipment

Monday, August 31, 2009

Boston State House
Photo by James Trosh

A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor shared a bottle of hard-to-find-in-Massachusetts Petite Sirah that he received via their mailing list. I had a look at their website and submitted a request to join their wine club. A few days later, they contacted me to let me know that it would be difficult to ship to MA. One shipper they work with was very expensive- $60 for 2 bottles (the wine only costs about $40 per bottle!). The other shipper said they could only ship if it went through a distributor. Both of these options sounded unattractive, especially for a wine club scenario where I'd repeatedly receive shipments from the winery throughout the year.

Everyone always says that I should just receive shipments like these via friends and relatives in a neighboring state. I guess I could, but what a pain in the neck that would be for everyone involved. At minimum I'd be burdening someone to accept deliveries for me. What if they weren't home for a few days when the deliveries came? What if it was too hot or too cold and the wine sat outside for a few days? And then we have to arrange pick-up somehow. That could be a nuisance as well.

What bothers me most about this situation is that this winery should be able to legally ship wine to MA already. Since they produce less than 30,000 gallons a year, they could acquire a permit to ship to MA by submitting an application to the Massachusetts ABCC. Here is the form they'd need to fill out. The fee is $100. The winery would need to file quarterly reports on how much wine they ship to the state and collect MA state taxes for the shipments. Although this may seem like a pain in the neck and expensive for small wineries to navigate (and it is), Massachusetts isn't the only state in the country with permit requirements like this. It's actually the model legislation that Free The Grapes.org endorses as equitable for the interests of the winery, the consumer and the states.

Let's say this winery decided to go through the effort of applying for one of these permits and they were granted a license to ship to Massachusetts. Where would this get them? Well, they'd find out quickly that they weren't able to ship to Massachusetts because, strangely, UPS and FedEx don't ship wine here!

Have a look at the first page you see on UPS.com when you search for "wine shipment":

"UPS does not accept shipments containing wine to or from Massachusetts."

Um, OK. Strange that they'd put that front and center on their site. And strange that Massachusetts would be selling permits to small wineries to ship wine to the state when UPS doesn't actually ship here. How about FedEx? Can they ship to Massachusetts? If we consult FedEx's from-to wine shipping tables we see they cannot ship wine from CA (nor other states) to MA. What's the deal?

Well, there's this wacky law which requires every one of a shipper's trucks need to be licensed in order to transport wine around the state. My understanding is that FedEx *has* gone through the hassle, and paid $150 for each truck they use to deliver wine. So I'm at a loss as to why they don't ship wine into Massachusetts. It could very well be related to this outstanding litigation regarding whether *large* wineries should also be able to ship to the state. This legislation is a farce, it would seem, since small wineries should already be able to ship and in practice they cannot. A colossal waste of time if you ask me. There's got to be a better way.

And there is. There are actually two pieces of proposed legislation authorizing the direct shipment of wine in accordance with the model endorsed by Free The Grapes and would therefore enable wine to be shipped directly to us. The legislation would address the remaining items limiting our ability to Have a Boston Wine Party. They are:

MA House No. 317. Check progress here.
MA Senate No. 176. Check progress here.

In doing research for this piece, I contacted the offices of the legislators who are sponsoring these bills. They provided me some clarification related to the intent of the bills, but overall I was left with little confidence these bills are being moved through the system with any urgency. That's where we each come in as citizens of this state.

The best way I'm aware of to move these issues along is to contact our respective representatives and let them know that this is important to us. Don't know who your representative is? I didn't. A list can be found here. Give them a call. Tell them you support direct wine shipment and ask them what they're doing to help move this along. If they don't support the proposed legislation, maybe we shouldn't support their re-election.

Keep in mind this legislation only applies to *wineries* shipping to Massachusetts. Out of state retailers (like Wine Library for example) would still not be able to ship to the state.

Consider signing up for E-mail updates from The Wellesley Wine Press for updates on these and other Massachusetts wine shipping laws. There are some nuances associated with the proposed legislation I'll be discussing in upcoming weeks.

Question of the Day: What do you think of this situation?

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