May 18, 2005

All day I dream about Scotus

Enough please with the recent Supreme Court of the United States decision on interstate wine shipping.

Now I’m the first in line to cheer the removal of restrictions on interstate wine trade. I currently live in one of many essentially free trade states in this nation. Wineries sell and ship wine directly to consumers here and in other states that allow shipping. Wine shops too, if they choose. And the wholesale trade still gets its share – wineries will always need agents to handle at least part of their distribution, most for the larger wineries that couldn’t possibly sell more than a fraction direct.

But what about the kids? You know, the ones the wholesalers say will abuse free trade by ordering alcohol on the…gasp, internet. Kids here in Oregon, believe it or not, aren’t getting liquored up with hooch they score online. There are way too many easier, cheaper, and faster ways to party, all of them qualities kids appreciate most.

And so the recent Supremes ruling opening the floodgates for interstate wine shipping. Hooray! What? That’s not really the whole story? But that’s what everyone’s saying.
Even the New York Times editorial staff said so on Tuesday. They noted the end of "unfair barriers…to the free flow of wine across the state lines." They even pile on by saying how the ruling will have "considerable effect on the wine industry and its customers, particularly in the booming areas of online shopping and small specialty vineyards." Sounds like free trade for everyone.

But, no. The ruling really says that, in states that allow in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers, such as Michigan and New York, it’s unfair to prohibit out-of-state wineries to ship directly. That’s wineries, not online or old fashioned wine shops that still presumably face restrictions. And that means states can choose to eliminate all direct shipping, which is just what Michigan might do. For the affected states, the wholesalers generally have a whole lot more power and influence than fledgling wine industries. Who do you think will win?

To its credit, the NYT did mention that states might "choose" to ban all shipping. But that was buried in the editorial, in the aftermath of their initial frothing. And they didn’t mention the wineries only part of the ruling.

So the ruling is a step, a positive step even. But it’s only a step. Save the toasts for bigger news, like when wineries and wine shops are really free to ship to anyone. Just like the guns and ammo sellers.

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