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Bay State Wine Lovers Toast New Wine Direct Shipping Law
Long-Awaited Relief from State’s Archaic Ban on Winery-to-Consumer Direct Shipping

July 11, 2014, Napa, CA –  Wine lovers of Massachusetts are toasting Governor Patrick’s signature on the latest budget bill, which includes provisions allowing for limited, regulated winery-to-consumer shipments. Starting January 2015, Massachusetts’ adult residents will be able to purchase wines directly from wineries licensed by the state to ship.

The bill brings to a close a decade-long effort to overturn an archaic ban. The Bay State is the second largest state for wine enjoyment – after Pennsylvania – that prohibits winery direct shipping. (Winery direct shipping is not occurring in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Kentucky, Utah, Mississippi, Delaware, Alabama, and Oklahoma.)

The budget language is based on the model direct shipping bill being used successfully by the majority of U.S. states. It requires wineries to apply for a state-issued shipping license, to mark boxes as requiring signature at delivery, to pay taxes, and to limit the quantity of wine shipped to individuals.

The law reconciles the state’s shipping statutes with the 2008 court ruling in Family Winemakers of California vs. Jenkins which declared the production capacity cap provision of the law to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Specifically, the statute prohibited winery-to-consumer shipping if the winery had been represented by a Massachusetts wholesaler within the last six months, or if the winery produced more than 30,000 gallons of wine a year. Wineries with wholesale representation were prohibited from shipping.  All Massachusetts wineries could ship to consumers and sell to wholesalers.

The ruling was later upheld in 2010 by the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The law fixes another flaw in the old statute by replacing a quantity shipping limit based on what an individual consumer receives in total from all wineries—rendering winery compliance impossible –with the more commonly used limit based on the amount shipped per winery per adult consumer.

In summary, the old statute’s capacity cap provision effectively banned shipments from the largest wineries, and the consumer-based shipping quantity limit effectively banned shipments from smaller wineries which could, in theory, ship directly to consumers.

Winery Direct Shipping: A Long and Winding Road
Here is a summary of key milestones:

  • May 16, 2005: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Granholm v. Heald that Michigan’s and New York’s discriminatory bans on interstate wine shipments are unconstitutional. MA has a similar regulatory arrangement.
  • November 21, 2005: Governor Mitt Romney vetoes MA House Bill 4498, which prohibits winery-to-consumer shipping if the winery has been represented by a Massachusetts wholesaler within the last six months, or if the winery produces more than 30,000 gallons of wine a year.
  • Spring 2006: The veto on HB 4498 is overridden and becomes state law.
  • September 18, 2006: Family Winemakers of California vs. Jenkins is filed, stating that current Massachusetts law violates the nondiscrimination principle of the Commerce Clause.
  • November 19, 2008: Judge Rya Zobel rules in favor of Family Winemakers of California vs. Jenkins, and later, enjoins the state from enforcing the law on December 18, 2008.
  • January 14, 2010: The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Judge Rya Zobel’s ruling.
  • 2011-2012: House Bill 1029 is introduced to reconcile the current statute and Judge Zobel’s ruling, but dies in committee in 2012.
  • January 18, 2013: House Bill 294, authored by Rep. Theodore (Ted) C. Speliotis, is introduced to allow wine direct shipping.
  • March 21, 2013: Former New England Patriots quarterback, and now Washington vintner, Drew Bledsoe, blitzes Boston in support of wine direct shipping.
  • June 30, 2014: House and Senate sign conference committee’s budget to Governor, including language similar to HB 294.
  • July 11, 2014: Governor signs and releases budget with direct shipping language.
  • January 1, 2015. Law scheduled to go into effect once rules are promulgated by state liquor regulators.

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