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Wine Advisor Express:
Wine shipping and the law

Wine lovers who live outside the United States are generally amazed to learn about the weird patchwork of laws and regulations that make it difficult to impossible for Americans to order wine directly from suppliers in other states. Actually, most of us who live IN the U.S. are amazed by it, too!

The problem becomes particularly acute for wine clubs and wine merchants who offer their wares by mail or Internet order, including our good friends at California Wine Club,, who often advertise in this publication. The first question such merchants must ask every potential customer is, "Where do you live?" And if you don't live (or have a friend who'll accept your shipment) in a state that permits its citizens to buy alcoholic beverages direct, you're out of luck.

The roots of this complicated situation lie in the nation's not-so-noble experiment with Prohibition: The 18th Constitutional Amendment forbade the sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. from 1920 through 1933. Although the rule hardly stopped people from drinking (Prohibition neatly encompassed the so-called "Roaring Twenties"), a decade of bootlegging, mob activity and a general disrespect for law prompted a wiser nation to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition, in 1933.

But the specific wording of Repeal contained the seeds of the regulatory nightmare that haunts us today, two-thirds of a century later: Repeal ceded to each state the right to control the shipment and sale of alcoholic beverages as it sees fit. In other words, alcoholic beverages are exempt from the rules that bring order to interstate commerce in virtually every other consumer product, and each of the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) makes its own rules and regulates wine and other alcoholic drinks in its own way.

Confused yet? If you'd like to learn more about wine-shipping rules and how they work, Wine Institute, the trade association of California wineries, has an excellent summary at For a detailed review of each state's specific laws, see the map at Finally, if all this prompts you to want to join forces with other wine lovers who are irritated about the whole mess, visit Free The Grapes,

Don't forget the Windows on the World families
A quick reminder, which I'll take the liberty of repeating for the next several days: We are supporting, and urge you to support, the "Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund" established by the reputable importer Michael Skurnik Wines on behalf of the survivors of the restaurant workers killed in last week's World Trade Center disaster.

You'll find more information, and our secure credit-card payment page for this fund, at, along with postal address information for the Fund if you prefer to send a check.

I hope you will give this effort your serious consideration. It is a worthy cause, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go directly to the families that need help.

This is Wine Advisor Express, daily edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisopr 3istributed Tuesdays through Fridays. For archives of previous articles, and to read more about wine, visit Wine Lovers' Page,

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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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