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Massachusetts Legalizes Winery Direct Shipping, but Questions Remain

Direct-to-consumer sales measure included in budget signed by governor; delivery-truck permits remain an obstacle

Robert Taylor
Posted: July 14, 2014

Massachusetts has become the 40th state to legalize winery direct-to-consumer shipping. On July 11, Gov. Deval Patrick signed the 2015 state budget, which includes language legalizing direct shipping in the state. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Despite support from Massachusetts wine lovers, winery direct shipping has been a long time coming to Bay State residents. The state's wine-shipping laws have been ruled unconstitutional twice, first in 2005 under the Supreme Court's landmark Granholm decision banning states from discriminating between in- and out-of-state wineries, and again in 2008 when the state's capacity-cap law, limiting the size of wineries permitted to ship to Massachusetts, was also ruled discriminatory.

See Wine Spectator's complete state-by-state overview of U.S. wine-shipping laws

Last year, Massachusetts direct-shipping supporters brought out the big guns. They enlisted the help of Massachusetts hero Drew Bledsoe, the former New England Patriots All-Pro quarterback and founder of the highly regarded Doubleback winery in Washington state, who stumped for Massachusetts House Bill 294, winery direct-shipping legislation introduced in January 2013 by state Rep. Ted Speliotis, but to no immediate avail.

"It's been a long, ridiculous battle, and there were times when I was feeling pretty low," said Wine Institute northeastern counsel Carol Martel, who has been working to pass a bill in Massachusetts for 10 years. "I can't even tell you how personally happy I am."

It wasn't until language from Speliotis' bill was attached to this year's state budget that direct shipping finally became a real possibility. "I was a bit skeptical," Martel told Wine Spectator. "But the next thing we knew, [Rep. John Scibak, chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure] was proposing a budget amendment in the House, which passed. That was a huge hurdle, because we knew that not only was John supportive, but that he had convinced [House] leadership to be supportive as well."

Martel and the direct-shipping proponents next had to convince the Senate to approve the amendment. "We thought that was virtually impossible, because we knew that Sen. [Tom] Kennedy had been vehemently opposed to direct shipping, so it would be an uphill battle at best. Lo and behold, we were able to get the Senate Ways and Means Committee to include direct-shipping language in the budget," said Martel.

"This is one of those rare occasions when it's a win for everybody," Bledsoe told Wine Spectator. "It's a win for wine fans in Massachusetts, and it's a win for the state—they get some additional revenue, and obviously for our business it's significant." The bill will also deliver more sales for wineries, including Bledsoe's. "I still have a lot of fans from my playing days out in Massachusetts, a lot of wine fans, and it'll be great to give them the option to buy directly from us."

The new law will allow any winery in the United States to obtain a Massachusetts wine-shipping permit for $300, and residents can purchase up to 12 cases of wine per year per winery for home delivery. Restrictions on how packages containing wine must be labeled were lifted as well—the packages will still require stickers stating that the package must be signed for by an adult age 21 or older, but those stickers will no longer have to be obtained from the state.

The only question that remains: Who will be making the deliveries? Massachusetts law requires that every truck delivering alcohol carry a certified copy of its owner's permit to deliver alcohol, for which the state charges $50 per copy. A bill to allow Massachusetts to issue fleet permits, common in other states where direct shipping is legal, was submitted in 2013 but has languished in the Joint Committee on Transportation.

"I think both FedEx and UPS are probably going to look at the potential business that the new law might bring in and decide whether it's still too costly to do business in the Commonwealth, or they'll decide it's now worth their while," Martel said. "There are still a lot of people, including FedEx, Wine Institute, local farm wineries and others who would like to see the fleet [permit] issue revisited, and I believe [Rep. Scibak] understands the issue."

As in most states, retailer direct shipping remains prohibited in Massachusetts.

Gerald Tye
Scottsdale, Arizona —  July 15, 2014 1:26pm ET
The distributors in Massachusetts have historically been quite powerful and close to the state's politicians. It will take an even stronger effort by the consumer empowerment groups to overcome the "speed bumps" of special license fees, and miscellaneous impediments the two former groups will continue to throw up. The good news is that more consumers are letting their legislators know, more clearly, how they feel about these anachronistic restrictions.
Good luck to all the sensible consumers in Massachusetts!

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