Nevada wine lovers worried about threat to mail orders | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Nevada wine lovers worried about threat to mail orders

Steve Timko
Reno Gazette-Journal

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Richard Milley started mail ordering wine decades ago for the cellar at his Reno home, so he shares the concern of many fellow Nevada wine lovers who fear legislation being considered in Congress could end their convenient access to high-end wineries.

“What the government is trying to do is limit my access to a wine that’s only available through the mail,” said Milley, who orders many favorites that need to be stored in a cellar 10 years or more to reach their optimum level.

“This bill is very discriminatory to the smaller wineries that don’t have big distribution networks,” he said.

Industry groups pushing the law say the fear is unfounded. The goal isn’t to restrict shipping but to end a string of costly lawsuits they feel is chewing away at alcohol regulation, the groups say.

Wineries have sold directly to consumers for decades, but access was limited based on state law.

In 2005, wineries won a major decision when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that if a state allows direct shipment of wine inside its borders it must also allow direct shipment to customers outside state borders. The number of states allowing direct shipment is now 38.

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However, a new bill, H.R. 5034 would exempt alcohol from that ruling. Backers say the measure would reduce chances that teens will buy alcohol over the Internet.

Chief Executive Officer Craig Wolf of Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America the company’s 2006 study showed 10 percent of teens either bought alcohol over the Internet or know a teen who did. A National Academy of Science survey in 2004 had similar results, he said.

Milley doesn’t see that as much of a problem with wineries where prices start at $60 a bottle.

“All of the mailing lists that I’m on, they seem to go a lot of effort to make sure people purchasing their wines are of legal drinking age,” Milley said. “It takes time to get on these lists. The wineries tend to have a fairly close personal relationship with people on the list. they tend to know them. I don’t think that’s a problem.”

A teen wanting to buy wine from Rochioli would have to wait five years to get on its mailing list.

“In general, I don’t agree to this intrusion into our private lives by the federal government,” Milley said. “It’s just another example of it.”

Paul Franklin is another Reno-area wine lover who worries about losing access to wines he loves. If there’s too many legal hoops to jump through, the wineries won’t bother to ship to smaller states like Nevada and will focus on larger states where they get more bang their buck dealing with regulations, Franklin said.

When bottles from boutique wineries show up in the retail market they’re usually priced much higher and disappear quickly, he said. There may be only a few thousand bottles of the best wines produced.

“Those are very, very difficult to get any other way than directly through a mailing list,” Franklin said.

It took him years to get on the Williams-Selyem mailing list.

“I don’t see any benefit,” he said of the proposed law. “It’s going to restrict trade, especially to small markets.”

Wolf said wineries are not the targets. If the law is passed, direct shipping would still be allowed unless states chose to stop it, Wolf said. If the WSWA’s goal was to stop direct shipping, it would seek other laws specifically targeting it, Wolf said.

What it is targeting is efforts during the last 12 years to get what Wolf calls deregulation of alcohol by grinding away one lawsuit at a time. This legislation allows state legislatures to decide the alcohol laws and not a federal judge, Wolf said.

“I love this argument that wholesalers are all powerful at the state level,” Wolf said. “If we’re all powerful . . . how come 38 states allow direct shipping against our will?”

He said attorneys general in 40 states support the bill, including Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto. Her spokeswoman, Edie Cartwright, said Masto supported it because it strengthens a state’s ability to regulate alcohol.

The bill has more than 100 co-sponsors in the House, including U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas. Spokesman David Cherry said in an e-mail that Berkley “has always carefully considered the impact on the families and businesses she represents before supporting any legislation in Congress.”

Bob Davids, a former International Gaming Technology executive in Reno, started a Santa Barbara County-based winery called Sea Smoke that sells 75 percent of its wine by mail and is watching H.R. 5034 with interest, said Victor Gallegos, Sea Smoke general manager and director of winemaking.

Gallegos said the bill hasn’t cleared committee yet and but expects it would protect for smaller wineries like Sea Smoke.

“I don’t see this passing ultimately,” he said, “but it’s definitely a good wake-up call.”

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