Legalize It: MA’s New Direct Shipping Policy from a Hospitality View
It’s a beautiful summer day in wine country. I’m coming to the end of the one o’clock tour and tasting I’m hosting and it comes time to invite these guests to purchase wine, or even better, join the our wine club membership program. This group was genuinely great. They were engaging, laughing at my bad jokes, asking questions and actually listening to the answers.
I was right: an overly enthusiastic response, many guests leaping for the shipping forms and wine club information. It’s a mutually beneficial interaction. I loved selling great wines – still do! But it’s even better when someone else, unrelated to the winery, finds value and wants to invest in that value. That wine club discount is very attractive, not to mention the wines aren’t distributed outside of California, and the guests are looking for some different wines from a winery with which they felt a connection. I worked hard for that feeling of comfort, to create that atmosphere. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, I get a great sense of achievement. I could imagine being <em>friends</em> with these particular guests.</i>When that happens, guests totally open up with ridiculous offers like ‘you and your husband (who they haven’t met by the way) should come out and stay at our house in Cape Cod!’ True story.
I meant to ask at the beginning, but end up asking now: so, where’s everyone from? ‘Massachusetts…’
Until just a couple days ago, I would have had to pull out my lengthy explanation of why not only our winery but most wineries in the valley can’t ship to Massachusetts and that it’s because of our antiquated three tier system used for distributing wine. Guests could not receive wine directly from wineries. Massachusetts was one of the notoriously difficult, and I mean put the wine in a nondescript box (think Home Depot) label it olive oil, ship it via air illegally to yourself or find a winery that would for $100/case or more, and hopefully your wine would arrive without enduring extreme temperatures. These poor people might as well have wanted their wine shipped to New Zealand, although maybe that would have been easier.
Afternoon wine buzz officially killed.
The three-tier system dates back to post-prohibition. At the time of the repeal in 1933, the government decided that there needed to be a body between producers and retailers. Enter distributors, and now producers must sell to distributors, distributors sell to retailers and retailers can sell to consumers. For whatever reason, the government thought this would protect the nation from becoming the real boozers they were before Prohibition. The 21st Amendment also granted permission to each state to decide how to control alcohol within its boundaries. Each state has a decision on whether to collect taxes on alcohol if any, entering creating large differences from state to state in creation and application of such rules.
Great idea, considering there are 50 of us! Therein lies the foundation that is the bane of the direct shipping department in wineries across the U.S. as each state has different laws by which to ship.
There are tons of exceptions though, combination retailer-producers, producer-distributors, you get the point, all varying by state.
However, as of the first day of 2015, the governor signed the state’s new budget which enclosed a statement legalizing direct shipping not only from California and wineries in other states, but from wineries within Massachusetts! As with each other state, wineries must purchase a permit to ship to that state and MA’s permit costs $300, but this will allow for 12 cases of wine to be shipped to a home residence per year per customer, whereas other states permit much less, such as Arizona, limiting the shipments to two cases per person per year. Some states even limit the amount of wine allowed to be shipped depending on each county (This also depends on the size of the winery and other factors). Although it’s from last summer, Wine Spectator provides a detailed summary of <a href=”http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/50258″>direct wine shipping by state</a>.
The permission to ship legally to Massachusetts opens up tons of potential business for wineries everywhere.As the 14th most populated state (over 6.9 million), this new law will make purchasing wine out of state much easier and less confusing for wine country visitors and potential wine club members, not to mention the hospitality crews at our wineries!
Until January 1st, tasting rooms everyday encountered visitors from Massachusetts on their first trip to California wine country, only to find that they cannot ship wine, or that to ship is outrageously expensive. With the change of the direct shipping law, we’ll hope to see many more visitors coming from this state, 3000 miles away, eager to find and ship wines they cannot find in their home state or unique bottles from wineries with a great story to bring home to share with their friends and family.