Texas Wine Shipping Prohibition Is Morally Indefensible (and Bad for Business)

Categories: Wine Time

vin de savoie.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
I bought this Vin de Savoie from a San Francisco-based online retailer last year. It's delicious but illegal in Texas simply because no Texas-based distributor carries the wine.
"Where'd You Get That Wine?" asked Wine Spectator editor Mitch Frank in a blog post last week.

It's easy for him to say. He lives in Louisiana, where out-of-state retailers are allowed to ship wine. Here in neighboring Texas, it's illegal for out-of-state retailers to ship wine to our state's residents (although it is technically legal, by virtue of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, for U.S. wineries to ship directly to consumers).

We've written about the absurdity of our state's out-of-state shipping restrictions before.

The bottom line: If a wine is not distributed by a Texas distributor, there's no way to get it to Texas. That means that the wonderful "old vine" Vin de Savoie that I bought from a San Francisco-based online retailer is illegal in our state.

As Frank notes in his post, some retailers simply ignore the out-of-state shipping prohibition.

In my experience, small retailers are generally unafraid to ship to Texas residents, while large, high-profile shops in New York and Los Angeles, for example, are unwilling to ship wines here.

According to Frank, "36 states [including Texas] still don't permit direct shipping from out-of-state retailers. Their laws mandate that wine must go through a state-licensed wholesaler and a local retailer before you can buy it." (According to what I could find on the internets, our neighbor Louisiana made it legal for out-of-state retailers to ship there in 2011.)

Frank doesn't "begrudge" wholesalers for "trying to protect the three-tier system that mandated that wines travel from producer to wholesaler to retailer since Prohibition was repealed. If you had a guaranteed spot in the supply chain, wouldn't you lobby to keep it?"

But he also opines that these Prohibition-era restrictions acutely limit our palates:

[T]he wine world is so much bigger than it was when Prohibition was repealed. Tens of thousands of bottlings are available in the United States. However, the average wine consumer doesn't see the majority of them in their local market. Wholesalers don't carry them all. For good reason: It's not profitable to carry a small winery's product that only a few people want.

When I travel to California and New York, I see hundreds of labels that are not available to us here in Texas, including the small-production Vin de Savoie above. They're available to my wine-geek and wine-professional counterparts but not to us.

Is it really a crime to want to drink these wines in Texas? The wholesaler lobby has made it so.

Is the repression of a new generation of Texas wine lovers' palates and the censorship of a "small winery's product" an ethically indefensible act? In my view, there's no question that it is.

And it's also bad for business. As wine connoisseurship continues to expand beyond our borders, the new generation of wine professionals will not be able to keep up with current trends in the trade.

If loving a small-production Vin de Savoie is wrong in our state, than I don't want to be right...

Click here to read Mitch Frank's post on the Wine Spectator blog.



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12 comments
acevola
acevola

Being a fan of the wines from the Savoie region, and having just found two Apremonts available, my curiosity was aroused when I read the caption on the first photo, “I bought this Vin de Savoie from a San Francisco-based online retailer last year. It's delicious but illegal in Texas simply because no Texas-based distributor carries the wine.”

 

I contacted the importer, Charles Neal, who told me, “Those wines are available through my distributor in Texas, Virtuoso Selections in Austin. They don't always have all the wines, but they can be made available if one is interested.”

 

I also got in touch with a salesperson for the distributor, who looked into the company computer and saw the wine listed. The computer didn’t show how much was available, but the salesperson said in fact the wine could be had, although it might take a special order.

ThirdEyeOpened
ThirdEyeOpened

@WinePoynt That's the TABC for you. It's worse for beer.

Soglanich
Soglanich

@Splitbin buy it in Kansas and drive it in! #JustLikeTheOldDays #Ridiculous

Megan
Megan

This seems anathema to the State of Texas' political bent toward little government intervention. But then again, when the distributors have deep pockets, government will forget their principles.

txbadger00
txbadger00

@wineblogman couldn't agree more!

gardulest
gardulest

Frustrating this. Can't tell you how many times I read Eric Asimov, discovered a cool sounding wine and then travel to Spec's only to be told "Sorry. We can't get it".

 

There should be a Day of Mass Defiance here in Texas where everyone places an out of state wine order and FedEx/UPS can cut all those accounts.

tomcwark
tomcwark

Jeremy....The wine consumers of Texas thank you. What should be known is that the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission works closely with FedEx and UPS to identify wine coming into the state from outside. Upon find that the wine came from a retailer, FedEx threatens to kill their entire account.

 

The problem is exactly as you state it . There is no difference in transaction between a Texas resident and a winery or a retailer. They are identical. Yet one can ship, the other may not. It means it is entirely illegal for a Texas wine lover to have imported wines shipped (since only retailers sell imports), while domestic wines may be shipped (from wineries).

 

Only consumers or considerable amounts of campaign cash will change the situation.

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

@tgutting thx tom! Cc @EatingOurWords

tgutting
tgutting

Great post, Jeremy. This is a huge issue and one that has profound effects on the retail market in Texas. It's great for Texas retailers -- as you've probably noticed, prices in Texas at wine shops are creeping up steadily since this law passed. We're getting oddly close to state-controlled liquor prices like they have in Pennsylvania and Ohio. It's bizarre since Texas has such a reputation as a free-wheeling, pro-free-market state ... yet here we are supremely protectionist.

 

The impact on boutique domestic producers and imported wine (particularly the great French and Italian wines, as well as new and exciting Spanish producers) is sad because we don't get to develop our palates here in Texas. What a shame.

 

My only nit: it's more than technically legal to get direct shipments from wineries to Texas, and it's a great way (if you're interested in domestic producers) to get any wines you want. I buy probably 95% of my wine direct from wineries. If only we could break this monopoly the state of Texas is creating and create competition, consumers would win -- and our wine palates would be better for it.

conebaby
conebaby topcommenter

 @tgutting This addresses my question, as we've had at least a couple of cases shipped to us from the Finger Lakes (NYS). So is that a "legal" or "technically legal but still risky" transaction?

 

'Cause I have a gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket...

DoBianchi
DoBianchi

 @conebaby  @tgutting wineries are allowed to ship but they need to have a license in Texas and they need to pay taxes. Many are willing to ship regardless... as far as I know, they never go after the consumers. They go after the shippers... 

tgutting
tgutting

 @conebaby The Supreme Court's decision in Granholm essentially forbids preventing direct shipments from wineries to consumers. So you're good, as long as the winery elects to ship to Texas. (You have to be legally authorized, but many wineries are.)

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