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Free the Grapes!

Australia Wine Regions MapI have resisted any political subjects on Musings, but feel that there is an important, nationwide cause that ALL wine lovers should get behind: Direct shipment of wine from wineries to consumers.

If you love wine and value your right as a wine drinker to enjoy wine freely and affordably, I strongly urge you visit www.freethegrapes.org.

Let your voice be heard.

Of interest to Massachusetts wine lovers, Senators Scott Brown and Robert O'Leary have co-sponsored legislation, An Act Relative to the Shipment of Wine, which would allow Massachusetts consumers to receive direct shipments of wine from producers outside of Massachusetts. Way to go, Scott and Robert! Make sure you contact your Senator and urge him/her to support passage of this bill!

Senate Press Release May 2005

Click here to read the Senate Press Release (PDF) concerning the recent ruling by the Supreme Court concerning out-of-state wine shipments.

Regulatory Update

Summer, 2011

House Bill 1029

House Bill 1029 was heard on May 10, 2011 in the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. No vote was taken, although wine industry representatives provided verbal testimony. HB 1029, introduced in February, is similar to the bill that stalled in 2010 (House Bill 317.) Among other provisions, HB 1029 requires wineries to purchase a $100 shipping license, limits shipments to 24 cases per year, and resolves the common carrier issue.

Fall, 2010

House Bill 317

Industry representatives continue to work with legislators on House Bill 317 (Torrisi) that allows for winery shipments and removes the carrier fleet licensing issue in the existing statute. The bill passed the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on February 9 and is currently in the House Committee on Ways & Means Committee. As background, a 2006 Massachusetts statute banning winery-to-consumer shipments from wineries producing more than 30,000 gallons per year, and who retain Massachusetts wholesalers, was ruled unconstitutional January 14 by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Direct Shipping Update - Massachusetts

Winter, 2010

Outstanding news! The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Judge Rya Zobel’s ruling that the 2006 Direct-to-Consumer-Wine-Shipping legislation is unconstitutional. The 1st Circuit Court agreed that the restrictive nature of the 2006 legislation perpetuates unfair trade practices and should be vacated immediately. This ruling paves the way for an opportunity to craft more consumer-friendly legislation that meets the needs of fine wine drinkers in Massachusetts. Now more than ever, you should voice your opinion to your local legislators that it is time for Massachusetts to get in step and allow direct purchasing of wine from winemakers across the US.  Go to “FreeTheGrapes.org” or click on the Free the Grapes “Shackles” icon on Musings’ home page for more information!

Summer, 2009

In our last newsletter we implored folks to write to D.A. Coakley to let her know that challenging Judge Zobel’s decision is a mistake and frankly, not in the best interest of wine drinkers in Massachusetts.  Well, both Betsy and I received identical responses from the Office of the Attorney General.  The response went like this:

Thank you for contacting the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley relative to the appeal by the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Control Commission (ABCC).  By statute, the role of the Attorney General’s Government Bureau is to represent state agencies – in this case the ABCC – and to defend a statute that was passed by the Legislature.  When a statute that has passed and is presumed to be constitutional is overturned by a single District Court Judge, it is customary that the Attorney General’s Office bring an appeal so that a panel of federal Appeals Court judges may fully vet he analysis of that single lower judge.  Such a review would include a legal analysis of the admissibility of the evidence at hand and the reasoning upon which the single judge based his or her decision.  While we respect Judge Zobel’s decision, we feel that it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth to have a full judicial review on this matter.

The Attorney General’s reply has not convinced me that any further tax money should be expended on this farce.  It is clear that the crux of the matter is about taxes and keeping the monopolistic, three-tier distribution system in place, which by inference is “in the best interest of the Commonwealth.”  Hah! Be prepared to see A.G. Coakley running for her next political position sometime soon and I guarantee that plenty of contributions from the liquor lobby will find their way into her coffers.  The federal government already weighed in on the constitutionality of three-tier systems, finding them an obstruction to free trade.  Governor Romney vetoed the legislation that was passed, stating that the bill did not “go far enough to protect the rights of the consumer.”  Now we’re told we need to spend further tax dollars – that could be put to better use – looking for a way to maintain unconstitutional legislation, which will only benefit the liquor lobby.  I say enough is enough. Get your torches and pitchforks ready…

Spring, 2009

On May 16, 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States determined that the post-prohibition laws governing interstate distribution of wine were unconstitutional. This decision was heralded by wine makers and wine drinkers alike as the long-awaited correction that would finally give folks freedom of choice in their wine buying. Almost immediately, states moved to create new legislation that seemed almost as ridiculous as the original, unconstitutional laws. In Massachusetts legislation was crafted that bans winery-to-consumer shipments from wineries producing more than 30,000 gallons and who retain a Massachusetts wholesaler; these wineries account for over 90% of all of the wine produced in the US each year.  The law was passed but quickly vetoed by then Governor Mitt Romney, who claimed that the law was still an unfair restriction of trade. Our “esteemed” politicians in the State House overrode Romney’s veto, thereby enacting the ban.  The law was challenged in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts and in November of 2008 Judge Rya Zobel ruled that the new legislation was just as unconstitutional as the original law. Wine drinkers again rejoiced, thinking finally we get a choice. Well, not so fast… Attorney General Martha Coakley is appealing the judge’s decision and using our tax dollars to take away our constitutional rights. I’m not sure what’s worse; the specter of Governor Patrick’s tax hike on alcohol (e.g. Sin Tax), or Coakley’s misguided appeal. For my Massachusetts-based readership, I can’t urge you enough to take action. 

Please visit www.freethegrapes.org and follow the links to Hot Topics for MA Consumers.  There you will find instructions on how to send A.G. Coakley a letter expressing your displeasure in her actions.  Act now so we can finally eliminate the ban on direct shipment of wine!

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