Wine lovers in Georgia may soon be able to order their favorite bottlings from out-of-state sources and have the wine delivered to their homes. On Jan. 8, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 162 to 1 to pass a bill that would undo part of the state's 1997 law that made it a felony to ship alcoholic beverages directly to consumers. Under certain conditions, wineries would be able to sell limited quantities of their wines to Georgia residents.
The measure (HB1273), which is a compromise between the interests of the state's alcoholic-beverage wholesalers and of consumers who want the freedom to buy wines they can't find in Georgia, is expected to pass the Senate without much difficulty. Governor Roy Barnes, who was elected in 1998, has indicated that he would sign the bill if it were approved.
The political atmosphere has changed dramatically since the Georgia legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a felony law. Last year, a Republican-led attempt to repeal the direct-shipping ban never even saw action. This year's bill was sponsored by the original sponsor of the felony legislation, Democratic Rep. Thomas Buck, who was joined by several cosponsors from both parties.
"Wine consumers have put a lot of pressure on their House and Senate representatives," said wine lover Richard Smith, a real estate attorney in Atlanta, who was among the Georgia residents who pushed their legislators for a change in the law. He said he believed that the bill's rapid movement through the House was influenced by recent lawsuits in other states, such as the Indiana case in which a federal judge ruled that the state's ban on direct shipping amounts to economic protectionism and violates the U.S. Constitution.
HB1273 would allow consumers to order wine (not beer or liquor) from out-of-state producers as long as those wineries obtained a special shipping license from the state and collected state excise taxes. Consumers who personally visit out-of-state wineries and purchase wine may have it shipped back even if the winery does not have a special license.
Wineries would be limited within each calendar year to shipping no more than 50 cases of their brands into the state and no more than five cases of their brands to an individual consumer or address. Before accepting an order, a winery would have to verify the age of the buyer, and all shipments would have to be marked with the statement "Alcoholic Beverages, Adult Signature Required." Violators would have their shipping license revoked for five years.
Read more about direct-shipping in Georgia: