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Two Senators Call for Return to Prohibition

Dana Nigro
Posted: April 1, 1999

Senators Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have introduced new legislation that would ban all sales of alcohol over the Internet, by phone or mail, and in person at restaurants and retail stores.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, the two Republicans stated that the "Prohibition Was A Good Idea in the First Place Act of 1999" would solve all those pesky questions about how to handle interstate shipping of alcohol directly to consumers.

"There won't be any more disputes between wineries, retailers and wholesalers -- everyone will be on an even playing field," said Hatch. "Even more importantly, this will prevent minors from getting on the mailing lists of cult wineries and buying high-priced boutique wines over the Internet. And we're keeping consumers' interests in mind -- now they won't have to keep track of all those disparate state regulations and worry if they are breaking the law just so they can have that bottle of Colgin Cabernet that no one else on their block has."

"The health benefits of eliminating that anxiety alone are expected to reduce the incidence of heart disease among Americans by 15 percent," added Thurmond. "Plus, now wine bottles won't have to carry either warning labels or messages referring to wine's alleged health benefits, so everyone should be satisfied."

Anyone caught selling alcohol will be charged with a federal felony and will be forced to pay stiff penalties to help fund the Got Milk? ad campaign.

The senators' move generated outrage among the wine industry. "This legislation will have a chilling effect on small, family-owned wineries' ability to bootleg alcohol across state lines," said John DeLuca, president of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, which has more than 450 wineries as members.

At the hearing, DeLuca and Free the Grapes! executive director Jeremy Benson were seen huddled with their long-time opponents -- representatives from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association and Americans for Responsible Alcohol Access. In a historic, first joint statement, the groups announced they would merge into one organization so they can pool all their resources to fight the bill. The first act of the Free the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers for Responsible Alcohol Access Institute (FWSWRAAI) will be to host a series of Congressional wine-tastings of high-alcohol California Zins before any important votes or committee meetings.

Passage of the bill could have widespread consequences. Early today, liquor stores around the country could be seen raising the prices on all remaining stock in anticipation of a rush on wine, beer and spirits. Airline executives, hoping that large numbers of Americans would book overseas vacations just so they could get a good drink, met to discuss plans to jack up airfares to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia and Chile. Gas prices are already creeping up near the Canadian border in preparation for an influx of U.S. citizens, who are expected to try to smuggle back contraband ice wines.

Sociologists predicted a rise in home brewing, backyard stills and bathtub liquor, since the proposed legislation would not prohibit the production of alcoholic beverages for home consumption. "This law shouldn't be passed for health reasons -- it could create a real hazard," said Dr. Will Havemore of the Institute for Promoting Drinking in the Public Interest. "People are much better off drinking overpriced Bordeaux made in a winery contaminated by wood pesticides than they are drinking plonk fermented in a mildew-covered bathtub."

In other news, today Wine Spectator announced that it would be making a strategic shift in focus to attract new readers and boost ad sales. The magazine will be renamed Wine Participant, and future articles will cover topics such as how to grow Pinot Noir vines on New York City apartment balconies and how to remove grape must stains from ceramic tile.

For more background on this subject:

  • March 31, 1998
    Direct Shipping Explained In a Clear and Interesting Manner--Really

    To comment on Hatch's and Thurmond's proposal:
    You Want to Do What?!

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