Sobering: wine shipping map

In the comments of our recent discussion of the rosé drought that was gripping the Hamptons, a commenter said that the easy answer was to have the wine shipped in (via Gulfstream jet, natch). But, seriously, couldn’t they order wine from an out-of-state retailer and have it sent via UPS?

Well, they could but it wouldn’t be legal. According to a rather sobering map from the Specialty Wine Retailers’ Association, New York is one of 39 states where it is illegal to have wine sent from an out-of-state retailer. A 2005 decision from the Supreme Court rolled back many barriers to shipping wine from wineries to consumers, as states had to strike down laws that discriminated against out-of-state wineries while allowing in-state wineries to ship and about three dozen of them have now leveled the playing field. It’s a no-brainer to me that this should apply to wine shops as well; however, I am not Chief Justice and it’s still an open legal question whether the 2005 decision applies to retailers. Free shipping from wines stores is much more important to the average wine consumer since it would lead to consumers being able to find the best price or provenance anywhere for a range of wines, including those under $20; winery-direct shipping tends to focus on wines north of $20.

Some states, like New York, have porous borders–no eight-foot fence to keep those wine shipments out. Others, such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have found ways to keep wine shipments out or at least down by working with the main carriers, UPS and FedEx. (A New York retailer once told be that shipments to Massachusetts’ islands were often sent back because of the local shops tipped off UPS drivers to report any incoming packages about yay big weighing 40 lbs.) Whether there’s little enforcement or not, wine lovers across the country would be better served with free, legal trade. Sadly, with no consumer movement and the judicial efforts of the Specialty Wine Retailers stymied, there seems little to break the impasse.

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28 Responses to “Sobering: wine shipping map”

  1. Tyler:

    Consider this where wine retailer shipping is concerned: Only retailers sell imported wines. American wineries only sell their own. So in effect, New York allows consumers to have domestic wines shipped to them, but bans consumers from having imported wines shipped to them.

  2. Tyler,

    We at evaluate wine offers from most of the major online wine retailers, so we have a pretty good idea of the states to which each ships wine. Clearly each of them ship to states other than the one in which it is located, and it does not appear that anyone cares. It is a good thing; creating competition in the market and reducing prices and expanding buying opportunities for wine lovers. My understanding is that HR1161, which would have made it much more difficult to ship wine interstate, is pretty much dead at this time.

  3. Tyler-
    Why does the map you posted look so much more gloomy than the one at free the grapes?

  4. Michael:

    It’s a map of where RETAILERS may ship wine legally. Free the Grapes deals with where WINERIES may ship wine legally.

    Now, if you can show me a difference between a winery shipping wine and a retailer shipping wine, then you will have discovered something important.


  5. I recently returned from Napa. One winery along Silverado Trail shipped directly from the winery to Indiana. Another (they will remain nameless) just down the road would not. Both are large wineries with distributors in Indiana. I am begining to believe that these people are confused or just don’t care. I have ordered wine on-line from Brix26 but will not ship here. I feel like a bootlegger but I really don’t care what the law is. I am going to continue to order as long as they keep on shipping.

  6. Having spent a fair amount of time down on the Cape and on “Massachusetts Islands,” I can tell you that this is entirely in character for the townies. They make the overwhelming majority of their money in about three months (or less), and come labor day traffic really dries up. Keeping the market as closed as possible is entirely in line with their interests.

  7. […] DECANTER: “The Rarest of Freedoms” DR. VINO: “Sobering: Wine Shipping Map” […]

  8. While I agree that it’s better for the consumer to allow retailer shipments it could be very bad for your local wine store. States set the taxes and fees paid on wines. If a retailer in a low fee state is allowed to ship into a high fee state the retailers there won’t be able to compete. Just something to keep in mind.

  9. This map is not accurate. I live in Illinois and buy from multiple retailers out of state and have no issues. NY, NY, WA, CA to name a few states.

  10. Steve,

    It’s accurate.


  11. Steve – Blago signed a law that prohibited wine shipments to Illinois effective June 1, 2008. Here’s a post from Tom Wark on the subject:

    Glad to hear it’s not affecting your wine consumption and purchases. But it would be better if it were legal.

  12. Yay for living in DC! No congressional representation, but i can get wine. So I can drink the pain away.

  13. Perhaps, as an outsider, I’ve missed something but surely all you need do is elect Mitt Romney – don’t Republicans believe in less government intervention and in free trade etc? They also believe everyone has the right to bear as many firearms as possible and I understand that wines (used to be, at least) are covered by whatever BATF became, so that means guns and wine are equivalent, no? Anyway, poor people can’t afford wine so it makes even more sense to vote Romney, no?

  14. […] Tyler Colman posts “a rather sobering map from the Specialty Wine Retailers’ Association” that breaks down retailer-to-consumer shipping. Tom Wark comments, explaining what we need to eliminate anti-freedom wine laws. […]

  15. Hey Dolan –

    Thanks for stopping by and delving into that peculiar aspect of American wine: shipping.

    Actually, shipping liberalization does not cleave along partisan lines. Indeed, the 2005 Granholm decision saw the justices scattering their usual positions and alliances, including a rare instance of Thomas not voting with Scalia.

    Romney is a Mormon and does not drink alcohol. And the Republican-led House has introduced legislation (written by alcohol wholesalers) that would effectively roll back what liberties we do have now for retailer-to-consumer shipping.

    If you would like a fuller, historical treatment, please see my book Wine Politics. 😉

  16. Actually, despite the fact that Romney is Mormon, his history towards wine and alcohol laws during his time as governor of Massachusetts was pretty progressive.

    W. Blake Gray did a nice write up during the Republican primary on his blog:

    You may not agree with his politics, but I wouldn’t worry too much that his faith will dictate his approach towards wine.

  17. Hi Christopher,

    I didn’t mean to imply that his faith would dictate his wine policy; rather, that because he’s not a wine geek, we at least don’t have his dyed-in-the-hermitage-blanc enthusiasm to drive policy. As such, he could be susceptible to moneyed influence, as members of Congress and state legislatures have been.

    Still, it’s good that he took a hard line back in 2006, even if he has done some rather spectacular voltes face since that time on other policy issues.

  18. Btw, Tom, yes, thanks for pointing out the importance of imported wine and how the winery-direct shipping completely omits this large segment of the market.

    Chris – tax is certainly an issue and I’m sure there are ways of collecting the appropriate state revenues.

  19. I expected the west coast to be more lax than most other states, however Seattle is pretty strict with their alcohol laws, so no surprise there either.

  20. Tom, you are right, I was wrong. It is illegal in IL. Is it enforced elsewhere? I get +/-15 cases of wine per year shipped from retailers around the country and have never had a problem.

  21. What’s the distinction between With Permit states and No Permit Needed states? I imagine that retailers pay a one-time (or annual) fee to the state as pay-to-play?

  22. Hi Tyler,

    How could I have forgotten that Romney is Mormon? Only one wife spoke…LOL

    I may very well buy your book at some stage (good plug!) but I have a feeling that US wine politics is even more fraught than French wine politics LOL

    All the best,


  23. Tyler & Dermot,

    Fun to see the banter about Mormons, wine and politics and adding in the wife…nice touch.

    I think the real worrisome thing with Romney and really any politician and wine (aka freethegrapes) is that money follows and there is sooooooo much of it to put in the pockets from the likes of the big guys. $7-9 Billion in rev at Diageo on US and $9 Billion + in rev at Southern (and thats only 13-14 states I think!!!). Plenty of pockets can be filled for the right vote. Its not about taxes at the retail level its about corporate dollars. If wine flows directly from those that make it to those that drink it, then lots of dollars go away from certain pockets.

  24. The map shows Alabama as a prohibited state, but it is, in fact, a permit state. Alabama allows import of wine from producers or retailers with an online form, as long as it is consigned to a state owned ABC store, where ID can be checked, and $3.42/per case in state taxes can be collected.

    Think I’m full of shit? Check it out:


    Kindest regards,

    Bob Wright
    Tuscaloosa, Alabama

  25. With the number of shipping and selling restriction in each state, it’s difficult for a small farm winery to enter and distribute their wine into many states. It wonderful to ship direct to consumers where possible, but you would ideally want the bottles on Wine Store shelves for the consumers convenience to reach a greater audience.


    Randy Agness
    Agness Wine Cellars

  26. […] Since wineries can ship to about three dozen states if they have the proper paperwork on file, this has the potential to affect a lot of consumers. But there are a lot of drawbacks too since consumers would apparently have to order from one winery at a time since there is no warehouse fulfilling the orders. Also, wines will likely be at a higher price to justify the shipping charges and there will be no imported wines available. (Retailers, by contrast, can only ship to about a dozen states legally.) […]

  27. […] would select today. Similarly, setting up a business selling wine via a virtual storefront when 39 states don’t legally allow wine shipments from retailers would seem a dicey proposition. And Jon’s swami-style (not a retailer but rather a […]

  28. […] Although wine e-commerce (hello, 1990s term!) has been growing, it is still hamstrung by regulations. Wineries can only ship to 36 states while retailers, who have much broader and more compelling offerings, can only legally ship to 12 states. […]


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