A recent change in how Wisconsin regulates interstate wine shipments left a few consumers scratching their heads. The state, contrary to some reports, did not set new limits on the amount of wine that consumers can order directly from out-of-state sources.
New rules, signed into law by Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum in late August, were limited to paperwork changes, according to Roger Johnson of Wisconsin's Bureau of Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement.
Out-of-state wine shippers must now file an annual report with the state, listing buyers' names, addresses and birth dates, and they must pay an annual $10 tax registration fee.
"There have been a number of erroneous reports," Johnson said. Consumers can still receive 9 liters of wine -- the equivalent of one case -- annually from sources in any of the 12 states that have reciprocal shipping agreements with Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute, a trade organization for the state's wine and spirit wholesalers, lobbied heavily for the legislation. Many wholesalers believe their businesses may be threatened if wine producers are allowed to bypass regulatory controls in the traditional "three-tier" system of alcoholic-beverage sales -- from producer to wholesaler to retailer.
The Wine Institute, a San Francisco—based trade organization for wineries throughout the United States, called the changes minor. "We can live with those provisions," said Steve Gross, who is in charge of state relations for the institute, which lobbies on the state and federal level to allow wineries to ship their products directly to out-of-state customers.
Another provision of the bill allows retailers and wineries more leeway in offering free wine-tasting samples.
For a comprehensive guide on the issue of direct shipping -- including recent news articles and a list of state regulations -- read our Wine Wars package.