In what is now becoming an all too familiar annual event, our freedom to purchase the wines of our choosing is facing a perilous threat from the Florida Legislature where two bills (one each in the House and Senate) that would severely restrict (and potentially stop for some wineries) the shipment of wine have been introduced .
The bills (designated HB 837 and SB 854) are identical in language and mirror bills that have been introduced in years past. If passed, these bills will make it much more tedious and expensive for wineries to directly ship their products to individuals in Florida. The differences this year are that (i) there are no alternative, more-consumer-friendly bills under consideration, and (ii) the legislature seems to be pushing these bills full steam ahead.
According to the language of these bills, the intent is to require strict regulation of winery shippers “in order to promote temperance by discouraging consumption by underage persons and abusive consumption by adults.” This argument has been made for several years in several states, and on the federal level, and has been shown to be absurd. The average teen who wants to try alcohol is not going to order wine on-line with a credit card, wait for it to be delivered (and find someone over 21 to sign for it; already a requirement), and then pop the cork. They are more likely to have a buddy who is of age go into the local convenience store or grocery store and buy some beer or a bottle of inexpensive wine.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and other similar organizations, used to support these bills in years past, but have abandoned the cause stating “that it is clearly trying to maintain the wholesaler’s control over the sale of wine, not protect children.” Even the U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed the concerns about underage individuals being able to purchase wine over the Internet.
In terms of limiting the ‘abusive consumption by adults,’ it is again more likely to see abusive consumption arising from an individual stopping by the local wine shop, convenience store, or grocery store, and purchasing a couple of cases of wine for immediate consumption rather than placing an order through a winery and then waiting (in some situations months) for it to arrive.
While the direct costs associated with a winery complying with the new bill is not particularly expensive (a $250 licensing fee), the legislation would also require that each winery file a monthly report with the state, noting whether or not any wine was shipped, the amount and brand/label that were shipped, and the total price of each shipment.
The bills prohibit a winery that produces or sells more than 250,000 gallons per year (a little more than 100,000 cases) from any direct shipping whatsoever. While it would initially seem appropriate that any winery with that kind of production should be able to find distribution through the three-tier system (winery-wholesaler-retailer), many such wineries make a number of wines that are only available at the winery, so these wines would never otherwise be available in Florida.
If a winery is already distributed in Florida, that winery would be prohibited from direct-shipping unless their contract with the wholesaler contained a clause agreeing to the direct sales, or the winery provided a letter signifying that they had provided the wholesaler notice one (1) year prior to applying for the new Florida license.
The bills stipulate that there would be a limit of 12 cases of wine shipped to a single household address (or household member’s work address) per year. While 12 cases would seem like quite a bit of wine, the true restriction comes from it being based on an address, not a particular name or person. If three friends ship to a single business address, so that someone of proper age will be there to sign for and receive the packages, they would all be subject to that limitation, so that effectively they could only order 4 cases per year without infringing on someone else's allocation. In addition, violations of this proposed law would carry the threat of a felony, which would be a death sentence for a winery (felons cannot be involved in the production, distribution, or sale of alcohol). So wineries would be apprehensive about the potential to be the 13th case, particularly since there would be no way for Winery A to know how much had already been shipped to an address by Wineries B, C, and D.
The bottom line is that the direct shipment of wine from a winery takes money out of the pockets of the distributor or wholesaler. The distributors lobby every year for laws that would prohibit or hinder the ability to ship into the state.
There are over 7,000 wineries in this country, and only a tiny fraction of the wines that are produced ever make their way to Florida by way of distributors, either because the winery’s production is too small, they don’t appeal to the wholesaler, or the wholesaler is not even aware of the winery’s existence.
I am not opposed to the regulation of shipping, but we need to push for smarter legislation that provides for clear and fair guidance to wineries for compliance and that provides fair access to any wines of the consumer’s choice. The proposed bills hurts not only the wineries, it hurts the consumer as well. Before it is too late, contact your state representative and/or senator and let them know your thoughts about this legislation, or contact:
Mr. Mike Haridopolos (Senate President) at (850) 487-5056 and/or firstname.lastname@example.org; or,
Mr. Dean Cannon (Speaker of the House) at (850) 488-2742 and/or email@example.com.