I wrote an article on direct wine shipment that appears in this week’s City Paper. Forgive the Madonna reference; it’s called “Over the Border Wine.”
The article explores whether it’s still illegal to have wine shipped to your door under Pennsylvania law. The reason this is an open question is because two court cases rendered Pennsylvania’s existing statutory scheme unconstitutional. And the Pennsylvania legislature has yet to clean up the mess.
Rep. Paul Costa and Sen. Jim Ferlo were kind and gracious enough to speak to me about the direct shipment bills they proposed that are currently pending in the state legislature. Tom Wark, Executive Director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, gave his insight on the issues raised by direct shipment legislation. Tom also writes one of the most insightful and thought-provoking wine blogs out there—Fermentation. The PLCB and the PA State Police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement went above and beyond in responding to my questions. Finally, special thanks to Gary Vaynerchuk, Director of Operations at Wine Library and host of Wine Library TV, for throwing in his two cents. Gary sympathizes with Pennsylvania wine drinkers. “What PA residents are going through is so sad,” Gary says. “I get over 50 emails a week from PA residents crying, including one that moved to South Jersey just because of it!”
And that’s one important piece of the puzzle that’s often overlooked—retailers. At the end of the day, what wine lovers in Pennsylvania really want is the ability to order wine from Internet retailers, not out-of-state wineries. The reason is obvious: choice. Internet retailers offer hundreds or even thousands wines from numerous wineries located all over the world. And contrary to the belief held by some well-intentioned folks in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s statutory scheme currently leaves Internet retailers out in the cold.
The case law I reference above only talks about wineries. But recently a federal court in Texas held that in-state and out-of-state retailers have to be treated equally as well. In PA, however, there is only one in-state retailer—the PLCB. And the PLCB doesn’t deliver wines to peoples’ doors. That is, at least not yet. If Rep. Costa’s bill passes as is—which would allow the PLCB to deliver wine to your door—they may have no choice but to let Gary and other Internet wine retailers do the same.