Drew Bledsoe visits State House: Now what?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Boston State House
Photo by James Trosh

As you probably readsaw or otherwise heard this week, former New England Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe visited the State House to meet with lawmakers and the media. Bledsoe was advancing the notion that out of state wineries should be able to ship wine to Massachusetts residents.

If you're new to the story here's a brief history of the battle surrounding the direct shipment of wine in Massachusetts.

Bledsoe's celebrity from his time with the Patriots combined with his ownership of Washington based Doubleback Wines makes him the perfect person to bring more visibility to this long standing issue. I thought the strategy behind his appearance was brilliant.

The story most repeated from his visit was a tale of Tom Brady trying to order a case of Doubleback and not being able to ship it to Massachusetts. Brady instead "shipped to a friend/relative in another state" - a maneuver many of us are all too familiar with. As the story (surely embellished) goes Brady's father in California drank the entire case of $89/bottle Cabernet before Brady had a chance to try it.

Even if that tale isn't entirely true it's one that uses familiar names to illustrate how, basically, annoying current shipping laws are.

One thing worth noting is that Bledsoe's wine is distributed in Massachusetts. I see a lot of people asking where they can buy it. The best way to find where it's currently available in Massachusetts (or any wine in any state for that matter) is to use Wine-Searcher. Here's a link showing where Doubleback is currently available in Massachusetts.

A natural question that might fall out of this is why direct shipment is important if wines are already available here? Well, for one thing, there are thousands of small production wines that aren't distributed here that enthusiasts would like access to. When this happens, enthusiasts ship wines to neighboring states which is a hassle and generates tax revenue for neighboring states. More on that scenario here.

But even when a specific winery is distributed in Massachusetts we'd still like the option of buying directly from the winery. This is most typically to gain access to wines in high demand with limited availability. Or specific bottlings produced in small quantities. Or because we're just interested in establishing a direct relationship with the winery. If you're on the mailing list and a regular customer you're more likely to be given special treatment when visiting a winery or informed of events in your area.

In total, restrictive direct shipment laws make it inconvenient for wineries and wine enthusiasts to do long-term business together. It's just not right. Some might even say they're unconstitutional.

What's Next?

I spoke with Jeremy Benson from Free the Grapes yesterday. After Bledsoe's visit I sensed a "Now what?" vibe in the air. The media seemed excited to get pictures of Bledsoe, and legislators seemed thrilled to get their pictures taken with him. But where do we go from here?

Benson acknowledged that in Massachusetts politics "nothing happens quickly". A tangible mid-term benefit of the Bledsoe visit is that when a wine shipping bill comes up for hearing the media will hopefully be more apt to report on the story and supportive legislators will be more apt to make this issue a priority. It's one of those "important but non-urgent" things that seems to elude action for too long.

There are 4 virtually identical bills in the House currently, all entitled "An Act regulating the direct shipment of wine":
H243 is notable (to me) because my representative Alice Peisch is listed as a petitioner. I believe this is the first time I've seen her support one of these bills in this manner. After discussing this issue with her over the years in person, on the phone and via email I'm pleased to see her officially on board!

H294 seems to have the most momentum behind it at this point. It's sponsored by Theodore Speliotis who previously chaired the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure - the committee these bills are heard within and historically (and unfortunately) "stuck" within.

How Can We Help?

Visit the Free the Grapes Massachusetts 2013 landing page. They do a great job keeping us up to date on this issue and make it easy to help spread the word and write our representatives.

Free the Grapes is going to be at Wine Riot Boston April 5th and 6th. Stop by and visit with them to learn more and find out how to help.

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