Sunday, March 19, 2006

You've Got Mail -- Not

If you've ever toured wine country, be it California, Long Island or abroad, then you know the joys of bringing back a few bottles to help you relive the good times you had while walking the wine. And, if you can find a few more bottles back home or have them shipped to you from the winery, you may continue to relive the memories for years.

While many of us are forever hunting for hard-to-find wines from small, high-quality producers, it also is fun to get one's hands on some special bottlings from some of the bigger wineries that don't get circulated widely. For example, we've enjoyed Etude pinot noir for years. But while visiting Etude last June, I was really knocked out by the Etude heirloom pinot noir -- a more complex and interesting pinot not found in Connecticut.

I carried a couple of bottles back home and was optimistic that I might soon be able to get more, since Connecticut in 2005 liberalized its wine shipping laws in the wake of the now famous U.S. Supreme Court decision. The Etude salespeople estimated they would be shipping to Connecticut in just a few months.

Ever since we got back from our trip, I've been getting the Etude newsletter. So, excited by news of the new heirloom release, I decided to call and place my order. You've probably guessed where this going -- despite the change in Connecticut laws, Etude still is not shipping to Connecticut. The problem, it seems, is that any winery that wants to ship to Connecticut and many other states first has to get licensed in those states. And, Connecticut has such a lengthy and complex set of requirements that some wineries are still wrestling with the details while others have thrown up their hands and said, nuts to this.

To top it off, Connecticut is charging $1,000 for a license. If every state took this approach, then any winery that wants to ship out of state is looking at potentially spending $49,000 just to get out of the gate. Obviously, this is not financially feasible for small wineries with limited production. Getting access to the wines of highly regarded but small producers -- who often have too little volume to be represented by the large wholesalers who control wine distribution in most states -- is the whole point of movements like Free The Grapes. So, overly complex and expensive licensing requirements can have the same essential impact as an outright ban, which seems to me to be a subversion of the new law.

Some of the folks in the business I've talked with say this is no accident. A way of giving the powerful wholesalers something under the table while consumers celebrate a moral victory that is, in truth, full of holes. Are these regs a deliberate attempt to discourage widespread licensing of out-of-state wineries? I can't say for sure, but it tells me there's still lots more work to do. The effort to truly "free the grapes" is far from over, and consumers are going to need to continue working their legislators for true access to cult wines.

In the meantime, slow progress continues to be made. Of course, you can get the latest at Free The Grapes. Bloggers also are watching developments closely. Tom Wark's Fermentation is relentless in covering this story in states across the country. New York Times writer Eric Asimov had a pretty good piece in the Times this past week about changes in wine shipping laws finally being felt in New York. So, there's reason to hope, but I won't be expecting any wine treasures in the mail anytime soon.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Mr. Tony said...

Mr. Tony is going to get to work on this problem pronto.

9:43 PM  

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