Will Massachusetts Lawmakers Finally Act?

In January of 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court in the case of Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins. This ruling struck down the 30,000 gallon capacity cap, which excluded 98% of domestic wines from shipment to Massachusetts. Although this represented a big win for wineries, several problems remained, and it was up to the Massachusetts legislature to act.

Almost four years later, Bay State lawmakers will once again try to craft a replacement law and move it through the legislature. The first and most important step is a public hearing on Direct Wine Shipping in Massachusetts to be held in Boston on Tuesday, November 12 at 1pm Eastern Time in the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

Bill H.294, sponsored by Representative Ted Speliotis, is one of five bills related to direct shipping listed in the hearing schedule. It would allow wineries to ship up to 24 cases per year to individual consumers in Massachusetts, require annual volume reporting to the state and remittance of excise and sales taxes to the state.

One key issue that must be addressed to make any direct shipping law effective is that of a “fleet permit” for common carriers. A fleet permit allows common carriers like FedEx and UPS to obtain a single permit for alcohol deliveries that covers all their trucks in the state, in contrast to regulations that require a permit be obtained for each and ever delivery truck. Without a fleet permit as part of a direct shipping bill, it is unlikely that the major common carriers would deliver wine into Massachusetts no matter how good the rest of the bill might be.

Additionally, the current direct shipping law on the books has a “consumer aggregate” volume limit, which allows consumers to only receive a limited amount of wine within a calendar year from all sources. This kind of aggregate limit is mostly un-workable, as wineries have little idea what consumers have already received. The aggregate volume limit is not included in H.294.

Behind Pennsylvania (population 12,702,379), Massachusetts (6,547,629) is the second largest of nine states that are currently off limits for wine shipments. The other states include Alabama (4,779,736), Kentucky (4,339,367), Oklahoma (3,751,351), Mississippi (2,967,297), Utah (2,763,885), Delaware (897,934), and South Dakota (814,180).

Additional Resources:
Free the Grapes! Press Release
Huge win for wineries, but can I ship to Massachusetts now?
Why Can’t I Have a Boston Wine Party?
Massachusetts Remains Elusive for Direct Shippers

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