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Shipping Wines in the United States

Shipping Wines in the United States

Shipping Wines in the US "Paul, There has been a lot of talk about shipping wines, could you offer an explanation?"
– J.G., Pacific Palisades, CA

It started with the end of Prohibition in 1933. A compromise between Congress and the prohibitionists, gave control over the sale and distribution of alcohol to each state. The states had to allow each municipality to decide if they wanted alcohol served in their domain and what controls over that service they would impose.

This law accounts for some of the most diverse laws in the country. Some states, like Utah and Pennsylvania, are actually in the business of buying and selling alcohol. They make a profit on the sale as well as collecting taxes on the incoming shipments. Other states, like California, charge very low taxes and generally have minimum involvement in the sale and distribution.

Shipping wine is a bit more tricky. First of all, it is illegal to ship any alcoholic beverage through the U.S. Postal Service. It must be done by a common carrier like UPS. Many states, mostly wine-producing ones like California and Idaho, have what they call "reciprocal agreements." Anyone can ship wine in or out without any interference. In some states, it's a felony! In others, there is a limit as to how many cases of wine a consumer may legally purchase. In other words, we have 50 different laws to deal with when discussing interstate wine shipping.

Most of the concern has to do with the state getting its share of tax revenue. Every state has some tax on alcohol and it is a major source of income. They don't want to lose that income by allowing wine to be shipped into the state without the taxes being paid.

Needless to say, it is a complicated issue and must be dealt with on a state-by-state basis. If you live in a state which forbids any shipment of alcohol, your only chance is to complain to your legislative representative. Unfortunately, it's a money issue...both for the state and for the large wholesalers and retailers which fear losing out on a potential sale. Unless there is a huge outcry from the public, things will most likely stay as they are.