The 2002 Vintage at Chateau Haut-Brion
As November draws near, early signs of holiday festivity are ringing in the distance. The approaching season means that it's time to start thinking about gifts for friends and loved ones in distant places. But for many of us, sending - or receiving - gifts of wine is not a possibility.
As I have noted in occasional previous rants, wine lovers who live outside the United States find it difficult to imagine the weird patchwork of laws and regulations that make it difficult or impossible for many Americans to order wine directly from suppliers in other states and countries.
How did you lose your freedom of consumer choice? In the U.S., the Repeal of Prohibition left the control of alcoholic beverage distribution to each of the 50 states, and they all established different laws, many of them seemingly anti-competitive by any rational standard. (Similar issues, by the way, afflict most Canadian citizens.)
More than a dozen states, led by California, have established "reciprocity," meaning that businesses in any of those states may generally ship wine to customers in the other states. But most of the rest have stern rules that forbid citizens to receive wine across state lines.
Although proponents try to justify this absurdity with arguments that these draconian regulations protect tax revenues, ensure an "orderly market" or even protect minors, it is quite clear that the laws are really driven by the wholesale liquor-distribution lobby and its allies, who have a heavy stake in strengthening laws that protect them against competition from Internet and mail-order merchants.
GOOD NEWS: THE FTC WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU: If you think this situation is as silly as I do, you'll be pleased to learn that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has shown official concern about the possibility that state regulations and private business practices may have anti-competitive effects on emerging E-commerce on the Internet.
The FTC held a workshop this month in Washington, D.C., addressing concerns about anti-competitive activity in nine industry segments ... including wine! Our friends at the nonprofit consumer-advocacy group "Free The Grapes" report that the FTC wants to hear directly from consumers who are frustrated with prohibitions on direct-to-consumer, interstate wine shipments.
Consumers are invited to share their anecdotes and opinions on this issue by sending E-mail directly to the FTC at email@example.com. Free The Grapes would also appreciate a copy of anything you send. Their E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm sending FTC a copy of this article, and I urge you to send in YOUR opinions. The official deadline for comments is Nov. 10, but please don't wait until the last minute.
MORE WEB LINKS: To join forces with other wine lovers who are mad as heck about all this and want to do something about it, visit (and join) Free The Grapes,
For a thorough overview and details about U.S. wine-shipping issues, Wine Institute, the trade association of California wineries, has an excellent summary at
WHAT IF YOU LIVE OUTSIDE THE U.S.? Although the FTC is presumably calling for opinions from American citizens, I see no reason why wine lovers in the rest of the world shouldn't take advantage of this offer to let the U.S. government know what you think of our situation. I expect Free The Grapes would be interested in hearing from you, and I know that I would. In addition to our U.S. readers, this E-letter goes to some 10,000 readers outside the U.S., and I hope you will feel free to write.Administrivia
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Friday, Oct. 25, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.