Congress vs. Direct Wine Shipping


During the last session of Congress, the right of consumers to have wine shipped to them was threatened by a bill called HR 5034. We have a new cast of characters in Washington, but the bill has been reintroduced as HR 1161. The text of the bill says that states should have the right to regulate alcohol, and should be exempt from lawsuits challenging discriminatory shipping rules.

Since 2005, the Supreme Court decision in Granholm vs. Heald has been the legal standard for alcohol shipments. In that decision, the Supremes said that if a state allowed wineries within their borders to ship to consumers, they had to allow out-of-state wineries to do the same. As a result of Granholm, 37 states now allow direct shipments from wineries to consumers.

HR 1161 was written by the National Beers Wholesaler’s Association, and has the full support of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America. Surprise, surprise. It will also come as a shock to learn that the NBWA and WSWA have been substantial contributors to the sponsors of the bill. It has been referred to committee, and may reach the full house during this session.

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” said Craig Wolf, CEO of WSWA. “This is about whether or not you as a member of Congress believe that states should have the authority to make policy decisions on alcohol.” He then made one of the most amazing statements ever to emerge from the mouth of a public official (the italics are mine):

“If you think the courts should have the authority to interfere with state policy decisions, then you’re going to disagree with us; if you think the states should be making that policy predominantly, then you’re probably going to agree with us.”

Wolf is correct—if you don’t keep an eye on those pesky courts, they’re likely to do something crazy like clarify the law. Watch them at all costs, particularly if they’re in the habit of ruling against your campaign contributors; if things get tough, there’s always the end run.


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