With a new law allowing out-of-state wineries to sell directly to Oregon retailers, effective January 1, Oregon looked like a bright star in the winery self-distribution field. Oregon had chosen to level up, allowing both domestic and out-of-state wineries to sell direct to retailers. It seemed as if free trade in wine had arrived.
But, in a preemptive strike just before the New Year, the Oregon wholesalers decided that the new law was the perfect vehicle to attack central warehousing by Oregon chain retailers.
In an e-mail circulated in late December, the wholesalers told chain retailers operating in Oregon that “the central warehousing of wine by a retailer” was no longer allowed and that a “retail license does not allow the retailer to transport wine or beer from one licensed location to another, even if the two locations are owned by the same entity.”
Retailers, who had for years used Oregon wholesalers to import wine and then have it delivered to the retailer’s central warehouse for the retailer to transport it to their retail locations, found themselves scrambling when wholesalers refused to deliver wine to their warehouses, even before the new law took effect. This was not wine purchased in a direct sale between the out-of-state winery and the retailer, but wines imported by, and purchased from, the Oregon wholesaler, as had been done for years.
The regular readers of the ShipCompliant blog may recall that the issue of central warehousing by Oregon retailers was discussed extensively in a prior blog post titled “An Exchange on Central Warehousing”. While Oregon had no statute prohibiting the practice, the OLCC had enunciated the position that central warehousing was not consistent with its regulations. However, the blog post carefully analyzed the Commission’s position and found it unsupported by law or logic.
For retailers in Oregon, the OLCC’s position was strange because many of the chain retailers had been receiving wine into their central warehouses and delivering to their own stores for YEARS. Some of them had letters from the Commission specifically approving the practice. The Commission took no steps to revoke these prior letters and let the practice continue.
So the wholesalers took it upon themselves to see if they could end retailers’ practice of central warehousing. While not articulated directly, the wholesalers are apparently relying on the provisions of the new wine self-distribution law to claim the practice is now outlawed. First, the new law does require that wine purchased direct from a winery must be received at a premise with a license endorsed to receive direct sales. [Section 2.(5) of HB 2677.]
But does that mean that the wine, during transit, must always stop at a licensed location? Could the wine be stored and transported from an unlicensed location, such as a central warehouse, before coming to the premises with the license with the proper endorsement?
Second, the new law in Section 2b contains provisions relating to who may ship wine under this new permit. Apparently the wholesalers believe that since retailers are not mentioned as one of the licensees who may transport direct sales wine in this section, retailers may no longer transport or ship wine at ANY TIME, even between their own stores, a practice that had been allowed for years. Again, it is not clear that the new law dealing specifically with direct sales by wineries to retailers was designed to limit retailers’ rights to transport or ship their own inventories of wine. Apparently the struggle to define who can ship wine, and under what circumstances is now open for debate.
The OLCC has just convened a rule advisory committee this week to help draft the final regulations to implement the both Wine Direct Shipper and Wine Self-Distribution permits, with formal rulemaking to follow this spring. We can expect round two to be exciting as the wholesalers decided to open it with a quick punch before the bell.