Until this summer, wine-country visitors hoping to ship cases of purchases home were likely to be disappointed. If they lived in any of the half the states in the country that prohibit direct-to-consumer shipments of alcohol across their borders, travelers had to cram wine into their suitcases, hope that airport security didn't hassle them and pray that the bottles arrived intact. Or else they had to restrain their buying, limiting their rare finds to an easy-to-carry-on bottle or two.
But now FedEx and UPS are expanding the number of states to which they will ship wine, making it easier for many wineries to provide full service to tasting-room customers from other states.
"[Shipping] has been complicated in the past because every state is different with their rules and regulations," said UPS spokeswoman Christine McManus. "This [program] doesn't go to everyone, but it is opening the doors a little bit more."
The changes at the nation's largest package carriers are due to a law passed by the U.S. Congress last fall to address the era of heightened security. Responding to concerns that wineries were losing tasting-room sales because American travelers were being prevented from carrying wine bottles onto planes, legislators loosened restrictions on interstate shipments of wine only.
The new law allows customers to purchase wine and have a winery ship it back to their home--under two main conditions. One, the buyer must be physically present at the winery. Two, it has to be legal for them to personally carry wine into their state. That opened up numerous states that couldn't receive interstate shipments before, among them Florida, Indiana, New Jersey and Texas. Combined with the 25 states that have approved shipping, either through permits or a reciprocal system, visitors from 39 states and Washington D.C. should be able to ship home.
But not much changed in the months immediately after President George W. Bush signed the Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. Wineries were confused about how to implement the new law, and those that were willing to ship couldn't always find a delivery company that would take their packages.
Wineries and consumers have to rely on the major delivery companies when it comes to direct shipping, as it's illegal to send wine by U.S. mail. Even if a state opens its wine market to direct shipping, there's not much anyone can do until FedEx and UPS sort out the legal fine points and get the license to ship wine.
"Both have really stepped up their attitude," said vintner Dennis Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley. "It used to be we'd get states that would open, and it would take years for them to add them on to their programs. Now they are very aggressive."
As of June, FedEx, which already shipped to more than 20 states, began serving 39 states and D.C. from any U.S. winery that is a customer and that can ship out legally. That includes 23 reciprocal or permit states and 17 that are on-site sales only. In most cases, FedEx provides both ground and express service.
UPS, which previously only shipped to 11 states, launched a pilot program to accept shipments from client wineries in California, Oregon and Washington and send them to 31 states. McManus said UPS continues to add more permit states, and if the pilot is successful, will offer the services to wineries in other states.
While the package carriers must get an adult signature upon delivery, the wineries are responsible for properly labeling the package, keeping proof that the wine was bought on-site and being sure they comply with states' personal-importation regulations.
Cakebread isn't sure yet if or by how much the new law has increased his tasting-room sales. "I don't know how much people used to carry it home versus what they are shipping now, or if they used to take it to a different shipper. But I would say it's significant," he said. "The real significance is that consumers are a lot happier doing it this way; there's a lot of enthusiasm."
The major challenge, added Cakebread, is that different states have different rules about how much can be personally carried in. Florida, for example, has a limit of 1 gallon per person. "It's hard to explain to someone who wants to buy a case that they have a five-bottle limit," said Cakebread. "And it's an education challenge with our staff to get everyone up to speed on trying to explain why."
For that reason, not every winery has taken advantage of the new law yet. "We're considering it, but we're playing it conservatively," said Michele Prinz, a spokeswoman for Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma County. The winery just launched online wine sales last year with direct shipments to 11 states and is working on adding others. "Trying to stay in line with all the regulations presents a challenge."
But she expects that they will eventually make the leap as there is customer demand. "Consumers are becoming very well-educated, and they have heard that there's a law passed that they can ship to their state," said Prinz. "Sometimes it's hard to shed light on the fact that we have to do things slowly and methodically, and there are heavy consequences for cutting corners."
For a complete overview and past news on the issue of wine shipments, check out our package on The Direct Shipping Battle.
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