Sunday, November 25, 2007

Can’t Ship There from Here.

It’s an old New England witticism, particularly in Vermont where I hail from, “How do I get to Barre?” asks the stranger to the farmer. “Can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” “Well then,” protests the stranger, “where does this road go?” “Why, I’ve lived here for fifty-eight years, and it ain’t gone no-way'ah yet.”

On our trips to Sonoma, Paso Robles and the Russian River, we’ve been running into the problem of how much can we purchase and still get it home. Since our state is so difficult to ship to, many of the small producers we visit cannot direct ship to us. The problem becomes, how can we purchase the wines that we tasted on out trip at home? Can’t ship they-ah from he-ah.

How can this be?

It all can be tracked back to Prohibition. As a child I heard the stories told by my aunt’s husband, about his uncle’s car being riddled with bullet holes when he crossed the Canadian border with a trunk full of hooch. When I was about five years old, we were visited by great uncle Walter (who also married into the family). He was telling a story at the dinner table about his adventures playing banjo in a speak-easy and getting raided by the cops.

If I knew these people from only one or two degrees of separation, then perhaps these activities were not uncommon and booze was very prevalent during Prohibition. Not to mention my grandmother and her siblings sledding great-grandfather’s spent grappa mash to the river on their sleds in the middle of the night to covertly dispose of the evidence.

So how does this answer the question of how did direct wine shipping became so discombobulated in the US? During Prohibition, the alcohol industry was pretty much a vertical monopoly. The major markets were supplied by organized crime. The same mobsters produced, distributed, ran the clubs and sold the product.

At the end of Prohibition, politicians were faced with a problem. The supply chain that they were getting their libations from were run by criminals. In order to weed out the criminals, it was necessary to make it illegal for anyone with a criminal record to play a role in the industry.

Producers were required to be bonded by the federal government. Wholesale distributors were required to be bonded by each state government where they did business. Every retailer and restaurant was required to be licensed by the government of that state subject to review by local authorities. Further, one can not hold a distributor’s license and a retailer’s license. You can be a producer or a distributor, but not both. Thus the supply and distribution channels became split up.

In order to get the states’ support, they were given the responsibility of controlling the sale of alcohol as they saw fit. Some states even delegated responsibility down to the county level. In some states, you have no choice but to by your liquor and wine from state owned stores.

Check your states direct shipping laws.In all of our trips to wine countries, we have found one winery that can ship wine to our door. They bundle direct shipments together to our state and ship it to a distributor in our state...for a fee. The distributor then ships to our home. This adds to the price of the wine. But we feel it is damn good wine that we cannot get locally.

Other wineries that we purchase from ship our wine to my parents in New York. A New York excise tax is applied, (ouch!). With the wine club discount, we still are slightly ahead. Life goes on, so it may as well be a good life worth enjoying. For us, that means a break from the mass market wines from time to time.

The Fear of Flying
Flying wine home? Check the website for the latest rules regarding alcohol. Many wineries have special gorilla proof wine boxes for check-in baggage and there are some great wine carriers available on-line and at wine accessory stores. At the time of this posting, you can carry on a corkscrew.