Wyoming residents can look forward to ordering wine from out-of-state sources this summer, now that a direct-shipping bill has been signed by the governor. However, Arkansas wine lovers' hopes have been dashed, as local wine merchants are reported to have pressured a state representative into pulling his pro-shipping bill.
Last week, Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer signed legislation that will permit residents to order up to two cases of wine annually from out-of-state sources and have the products delivered directly to their doorsteps. The new law becomes effective on July 1, 2001.
The permit bill was drafted last December by the Joint Revenue Interim Committee as a compromise among lobbyists on all sides of the issue. The biggest objector to the legislation, the Wyoming State Liquor Association, dropped its opposition and did not lobby against the bill when it was under consideration by the House of Representatives. Without opponents, the bill swiftly won approval in the Senate on Feb. 14, and the governor signed it on Feb. 20.
Enrolled Act Number 40, as the amended bill is now called, requires out-of-state sellers to buy a $50 license from the Wyoming Department of Revenue's liquor division. Shippers must also pay a 12 percent state tax on all wine sales. (Shipping beer and spirits will still be prohibited.)
Under the language of the bill, shippers will ultimately be held responsible for any mishandling of the wine shipments, such as an accidental delivery to a minor. Violators face misdemeanor charges, and shippers could lose their permits to deliver wine in Wyoming.
Arkansas wine consumers weren't so fortunate, as the prospects for home delivery in their state underwent a sudden turnaround. Just last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill allowing direct shipping and supporters were optimistic about its chances in the Senate. However, the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Herschel Cleveland, pulled the legislation before it reached the Senate floor. Cleveland originally drafted the bill to support wineries in his district, which wanted to be able to ship their wines to other states. But several Arkansas liquor stores threatened to pull local wines from their shelves if the legislation passed.
"We heard about the bill passing the house," said an anonymous worker at a wine retail shop in Fort Smith, Ark. "The following week, when it came time to reorder from local wineries, none of us did it."
However, Kevin Case, a spokesman for the Arkansas Package Store Association, a liquor retail group, said there was no outright boycott. "We support Arkansas wineries and the local economy, but we don't want direct shipping, because it would hurt our local retailers' business," Case said. "Me, personally, I didn't make any calls [to organize a boycott]. We would never boycott, and I don't want to discuss any of this. There is no bad blood [between local retailers and wineries]."
"That's baloney," responded local winery owner Al Wiederkehr of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, in Altus, who said that retailers called him threatening to boycott his wines if the bill passed. Several other wineries received such calls, and eventually they asked their congressman to drop the bill.
Wiederkehr believes the retailers buckled under pressure from alcoholic beverage wholesalers to threaten a boycott. Many wholesalers around the country oppose direct shipping, fearing that wine purchases via phone, mail order and the Internet may threaten their business. "We would've passed that bill, I think, but the wholesalers are big handlers that wield big hammers to crush small wineries," said Wiederkehr. "It's not fair, and I didn't think they would get that mean."
The Arkansas legislature only convenes every other year, so it will be two years before another direct-shipping bill can be proposed.
Read more about recent direct-shipping legislation: