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A friendly bet penalized

A friendly bet penalized

The nutty network of laws that control the shipment of alcoholic beverages among states of the U.S. may spoil a friendly Super Bowl bet between the governors of California and Florida, National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" reported today.

Tampa Bay
Slightly "doctored" logo of Tampa Bay's Buccaneers
According to NPR reporter Scott Horsley, California Gov. Gray Davis owes Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a case of California Cabernet Sauvignon, having backed the losing side when Florida's Tampa Bay Buccaneers wiped out California's Oakland Raiders in Sunday's American football championship game.

But Davis can't follow through, according to the NPR report, because Florida law makes it a felony for anyone but a licensed distributor to ship wine (or any other alcoholic beverage) into the Sunshine State.

NPR didn't point this out, but Davis is probably in the clear, as a close reading of the Florida law reveals that the shipping ban only applies to those "in the business of selling alcoholic beverages." Private individuals - even governors, one assumes - are not criminalized. What's more, Florida's law applies only on the second offense: First-timers receive only a warning; so Gov. Davis appears to be safe from prosecution unless he is incautious enough to make a similar bet the next time a California team takes on Floridians in a major game.

I've got a better idea, though. Davis could get a lot of mileage out of this - publicity that would benefit hundreds of businesses in his state's wine industry - by making a public joke out the situation, going through the same kind of silly process that so many of us wine lovers must endure when we try to get our hands on wines that aren't available locally.

He might try shipping Jeb's wine in a plain brown wrapper marked "fruit preserves," for instance, taking the risk that he won't be able to collect insurance if it's lost. Or ship the wine legally to a mutual friend in a state that permits direct shipment. West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, for one, would probably be glad to help his buddies by holding the stash until Jeb has a chance to pick it up. I would love to see Davis do this ... but I'll bet he won't.

I expect the moral of today's sermon is clear: These restrictive laws in many states, which look mighty strange to our wine-loving friends in other countries around the world, serve no useful public purpose. They are a remnant of Prohibition, and they benefit the interests of no one except the wholesale liquor industry, which spends a great deal of time and money on lobbying and litigation to keep them alive.

For information on each state's specific laws regarding wine shipment, see "Direct Shipment Laws by State for Wineries" on Wine Institute's WineLaw pages,

To get involved in a citizen effort to change these laws, visit our friends at Free The Grapes,

Finally, the NPR Website indicates that Horsley's report on the bet will be available online after noon U.S. Eastern time (1700 GMT) today at

Davis also owes Bush a fresh San Diego fish taco, but the shipment of this tasty treat does not appear to be regulated by law. We figure that getting it there crisp and hot will be a minor challenge, compared with the effort needed to get rid of the archaic and anti-consumer shipping laws.


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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.

Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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