Note: From the archives, a sample of my work with United Press International.
By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) — Starting July 1, it will be possible to obtain a case of California Merlot or a rare French Bordeaux without ever leaving your home in Virginia.
Gov. Mark Warner recently signed a bill that makes direct shipments legal.
“This legislation I signed into law is a tremendous victory for Virginia’s wineries and Virginia wine lovers,” the governor said. “Virginia wineries and vineyards will benefit through the opening of markets in other states to showcase the great quality of Virginia wines to a wider audience.”
Warner, who produces his own wine, Rappahannock Bend, as a hobby, described the new law as beneficial to a growing industry.
“The new wine shipment law, along with our increased efforts to promote tourism around Virginia’s wineries, will allow our wineries to continue to grow and prosper as they put Virginia wines up against wines from around the world,” he said.
In Maryland, however, direct sales remain a felony, making it difficult for wine lovers to buy wines directly from wineries or out-of-state merchants.
The old law kept Virginia wineries from selling their wines over the Internet, and Virginia residents from buying out-of-state wines.
“Consumers in many of states will now have access to the great wines of Virginia,” said David Sloane, president of the Washington-based trade group WineAmerica. “Similarly, Virginia consumers will know be allowed to have wines from other states shipped to their front doors.”
The law opens the markets in 13 states with reciprocity — including California, Washington and Oregon — to Virginia wines. The others are: Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Hawaii and West Virginia.
“We have an opportunity to market and sell our wines to 13 new markets, which equals 30 percent of the American public,” Dean Triplett, owner of Willowcroft Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, Va., told United Press International.
The law will permit residents a maximum of two 12-bottle cases per month, but only from wineries that are licensed to sell direct to consumers and that purchase a $50 Virginia state license.
It also mandates that shippers report their sales to the state and pay all excises and sales taxes.
“Visitors to our vineyard, who in the past were unable to place an out-of-state order for Willowcroft wine, can now get our wines shipped directly to their homes,” Triplett said.
According to WineAmerica, the number of wineries in Virginia has grown 491 percent in the past two decades. In 1980, there were 11 wineries in the state compared with 65 in 2000, the trade group said.
As of 2003, Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in the production of vinifera grapes and is home to 75 wineries and more than 250 vineyards, Warner said.
In neighboring Maryland, there were four wineries in 1975 compared with 14 in 2000, a growth rate of 250 percent.
But despite its growth in recent years as a wine producing state, it remains a felony in Maryland for wineries to sell their wines over the Internet, and for residents to purchase out-of-state wines.
Triplett described Maryland’s strict shipment laws as an “insult to the residents of Maryland.”
“Virginia has set a good standard that we should take a look at,” Rob Deford, owner of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Md., told UPI.
Deford said there was “de facto prohibition” in Maryland because the state’s inordinate amount of paperwork or fees does not make the effort worth it for the occasional sale. He added that for $10 fee, a bottle of wine could be sent from Virginia to a retail store in Hydes, but there would be a mark-up from a distributor, putting unnecessary costs on the transaction.
Under the law, Maryland also can impose a $35,000 fine on a business shipping wine into that state unlawfully.
It is a crime to ship wines into these states: Utah, Arizona, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.
Eleven states allow limited or highly restricted shipping, according to WineAmerica. They are Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Louisiana, Georgia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Alaska and Connecticut.