In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Michigan and New York's bans on out-of-state wine shipments are unconstitutional, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill on June 8 that will allow residents to receive direct shipments of wine from producers both outside and within the state. Previously, Connecticut only allowed in-state wineries to ship to its residents.
The new measure, SB-122, which was a bipartisan effort sponsored by Rep. Jack Stone (R) and Sen. Thomas Colapietro (D), was supported by the state's Department of Consumer Protection. The bill is currently in the office of the Secretary of State, and from there it will go to Gov. Jodi Rell. Her office explained that bills signed into law take effect either July 1 or October 1, according to the state's fiscal calendar.
If Rell does sign the bill, Connecticut residents--except those living in dry towns--will be able to receive shipments of up to five cases from a winery every 60 days.
The bill requires wineries to follow certain procedures to prevent sales to minors and ensure that all taxes are collected. All shippers will have to label packages as containing alcohol, and the package carriers will have to check ID upon delivery and obtain the signature of someone 21 or older. If a winery isn't already selling wine in Connecticut through a distributor, it will have to buy a shipping permit, which ranges in price from $250 to $1,000, depending on annual production. In addition, out-of-state wineries will have to pay Connecticut's alcohol-beverage taxes, as the local wineries do, and provide complete records of all sales and shipments to each customer. Moreover, the shippers will have to agree in writing that Connecticut's courts and state agencies have jurisdiction over the enforcement of the new laws and regulations.
These procedures, although they may seem cumbersome to small wineries, have become standard practice in shipping laws in recent years. "It's not that difficult" for wineries to comply, said Dennis Cakebread, director of marketing for Cakebread Cellars in Napa. "If you gotta do it, you gotta do it."
"This bill strikes a fair balance between protecting our state's underage residents while still allowing fair trade and the spirit of consumerism," Sen. Colapietro said in a statement to Wine Spectator. "The General Law Committee has had this bill ready since January, awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court. I'm glad its time has come."
So are Connecticut wineries, which will now be able to sell to customers in other states that permit direct shipments. "We're very happy about [the bill]," said Jonathan Edwards of Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington. "We're in a very touristy area, so we have a lot of folks from outside the state who come, and then of course they can't get our wine. I can't tell you how many times we've had requests for wine to be shipped that we can't honor. So it's going to work well for us."
Edwards isn't worried about the wine that will inevitably flow into Connecticut from elsewhere. "California or wherever can ship in, and we can ship out," Edwards explained. "For a small winery like us, that's really going to benefit us. We're not competing against Kendall-Jackson or Mondavi. It's more one consumer at a time."
At the heart of the Supreme Court's decision was the requirement that states must treat in-state and out-of-state wineries equally, so the ruling could be used to challenge unequal treatment in areas other than shipping. To avoid further court cases, Connecticut's bill also allows small out-of-state wineries--defined as those producing less than 100,000 gallons of wine per year and using 25 percent estate-grown fruit--to ship up to 15 gallons directly to retailers, as Connecticut wineries are currently permitted to do. This measure would further cut the involvement of distributors, who generally oppose direct shipping.