Schizophrenic Wine Laws

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Tell me if this makes sense:

In Texas, consumers are allowed to purchase alcohol directly from wineries. They are not, however, permitted to buy wine over the Internet from some retailers—the very people who are supposed to be selling it to them in the first place.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a challenge to the law that allowed Texans to buy wine from retailers in Texas, but not from those located outside the state. Is this discriminatory? You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to think so. Just read the Commerce Clause, which seems to mandate that it’s the job of the federal government to regulate trade among states.

There are a handful of other states that indulge in the same schizophrenia. Illinois allows wineries to ship to consumers, but prohibits retailers from doing so. The same situation applies in Michigan, which bans shipments from retailers in almost every case. What’s going on here? Many people suspect that the large national wholesalers are applying pressure in these state houses, in the hope of keeping consumer purchases within the standard distribution chain. Incidentally, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America applauded last week’s decision, if that tells you anything.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the Texas case was all the more confusing in light of their 2005 decision in Granholm vs. Heald, a parallel case which dealt with direct shipments from wineries. In Granholm, the Court held that if wineries within a state were allowed to ship to consumers, then out-of-state wineries had to be allowed to do the same. Would it not make sense to apply similar standards to retailers? Apparently not, because they are forced to buy their products from wholesalers.

Many years ago, when I visited Greece under the rule of the military junta, citizens were prohibited from playing a card game called Koum Kan. It was a gambling game, apparently, and the dictators thought it was a source of moral decay. If you were caught playing Koum Kan in your house, you could go to jail for several years. Watch out, Texas: when those agents of the state come bursting through your front door, you’d better have your wine receipts in order.

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