Wine Legislation Roundup: A Consumer’s Guide to 2018 State Politics

Your state legislature is in session. What bills are your representatives debating that could impact your access to wine?
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Thanks to the 21st Amendment, U.S. alcohol laws are a puzzle of various state and local rules.

Local politics matter: While Congress and the White House are busy in Washington, D.C., your state leaders are also debating legislation—and some of it impacts your access to wine. Because the 21st Amendment to the Constitution gives most alcohol-regulation power to the states, you had better pay attention to yours.

The issues under debate this year are wide-ranging, from the serious to the absurd. As always, direct shipping is a hot topic, with wineries and retailers at the center of the debate; wine could be coming to a movie theater, stadium, art gallery or bookstore near you; Virginia wants a license plate with a special wine message; and much more.

For a comprehensive look, here’s a guide to the proposed laws currently under consideration.

The legislature in Maryland is looking to put stricter restrictions on producers making wine in the state. A bill would require wineries to own at least 20 acres of grapes or other fruit in cultivation in the state for use in the production of wine. If less than 20 acres are owned, wineries would have to use at least 51 percent of Maryland fruit in their product.

There’s also a push in some states for legalizing on-premise consumption at wineries. Oklahoma is considering allowing tastings at wineries. New Mexico is debating legalizing on-premise sales at wineries for private celebrations, like weddings (currently, only public celebrations have this privilege). Washington wineries might be able to increase the number of tasting rooms they can have from two to four. And in South Carolina, a bill would allow a winery to hold a license for a separate venue where they could sell their wine on-premise, as long as it is not in the same location as said winery.

In November 2016, Oklahoma legalized winery-direct shipping by ballot measure. This will go into effect in October 2018, and lawmakers are currently fine-tuning the legislation that will regulate shipping. In May 2017, a few fixes were made to the bill. Some additional changes may be made before the fall. As it stands, wineries will be able to ship up to six 9-liter cases of wine a year to Oklahoma consumers if they acquire a $350 permit. Both wineries and common carriers will have to file reports, and the former will pay taxes on the wine they ship.

In both Alabama and Delaware, winery-direct shipping is also being considered. And in New Jersey, where winery-direct shipping is legal, legislators are looking to loosen the grip a little. Currently, only wineries making 250,000 gallons (about 80,000 cases) or less annually can ship into the state; a bill creates a “reserve” shipping license for wineries making over 250,000 gallons.

Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island legislators are considering making out-of-state retailer-direct shipping into their states legal. In New York, the proposed bill would allow reciprocal shipping, meaning only licensees in states where retailer-direct shipping is also legal may ship into New York.

In New Hampshire, a bill would outlaw out-of-state retailer-direct shipping. In South Carolina and Virginia, similar bills would mandate that alcohol has to physically go through a wholesaler’s premises before being passed on to a retailer. In Virginia, the bill specifies that the product must rest there for no less than 4 hours.

What are the wine-shipping laws in my state? Wine Spectator‘s state-by-state guide to winery and retailer direct shipping laws is regularly updated with the most accurate information available.

Wineries got good news late last year with the expansion of federal excise tax credits. More goodies on the state level are being discussed, including a small winery tax credit in Washington for wineries making up to 20,000 gallons of wine annually (about 8,500 cases), tax deductions toward state income tax in Maryland for expenses related to winery operations, and more tax credits and a loan program in New Jersey for new wineries starting their business.

On the distributor side, it’s mostly bad news. While Oklahoma lawmakers want to decrease taxes for retailers and distributors on sales of alcoholic beverages, from 13.5 to 6.5 percent, most other states are looking at a tax hike. In Kentucky, wholesale sales tax could rise from 11 to 14 percent. In South Dakota, wholesalers and wineries would face a tax increase from $0.93 a gallon to $1.27.

It’s been long debated, but has never become reality: A bill would allow grocery stores to sell wine in New York state. Is this the year? Perhaps, but it’s so far not been included in the governor’s budget.

In Maryland, Montgomery County—a suburban area to Washington, D.C.—is also looking to expand where consumers can buy wine at retail. A bill is proposing the creation of a “dispensary” adjoining a grocery store, established and maintained by the County Department of Liquor Control, which could sell wine for off-premise consumption. The dispensary could only exist if the grocery store was at least 10,000 square feet. It would also have to be separated from the main store by a barrier, which customers could enter or leave through just one passageway. Customers would have to pay for their alcoholic beverages at the dispensary itself, and not in the main grocery store.

In West Virginia, where selling wine in grocery stores is legal, a proposed law would allow stores to sell West Virginia wine without a license. In Oklahoma, a requirement that alcohol must be sold at room temperature at retail and package stores could be repealed.

And some good news for farmers markets: Washington state may legalize wine sales at the markets, and New…

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