governor signs direct shipment of wine into law

In July of 2014 Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation that would allow consumers in Massachusetts to order wine directly from wineries around the country and allow those wineries ( if licensed in Massachusetts)  to ship.  Ferriter Scobbo & Rodophele PC through its lead lobbyist Robert Rodophele has represented Wine Institute in its legislative effort to allow direct shipment for a number of years.

 Direct shipment of wine legislation in Massachusetts has had a long and challenging journey through the Massachusetts legislative process. Massachusetts was under harsh scrutiny by its wine consuming residents for being one of the few states in the U.S., alongside Oklahoma, Alabama, and several others, which did not allow the direct shipment of wine. The new law would allow wine consumers to purchase out of state wines by the bottle or case. Prior to passing this bill, individuals were forced to go through their local retailer to purchase their preferred wine, which was often not available. The direct shipment of wine would give consumers the ability to buy wine from out of state wineries and have it shipped directly to his or her front door.   Drew Bledsoe, former New England Patriot and current co-owner of Doubleback Winery in Walla Walla Valley, California, has become a well-known direct shipment of wine advocate in Massachusetts. He found himself on the other end of this issue when he was denied direct shipment of his own wine to former teammates in the Bay State.

Robert Rodophele has represented Wine Institute for a number of years and has been working on this corrective bill for the past six years. While bills have been filed in the past, none have worked their way through the legislative process. This year, however, Bob’s tireless efforts resulted in an amendment, attached to the annual budget bill, passed in both the House and Senate. The approval of this annual budget bill (Chapter 165 of the Acts of 2014 Sections 160,162, 163) authorized direct shipment of wine to consumers. Governor Patrick signed the language into law when he signed the budget on July 15, 2014. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2015.

The key elements of the bill are as follows:

  • Requires that all in-state and out-of state direct shippers receive a direct wine shipper license from the Alcohol Beverages Control Commission (“ ABCC”).  The purpose of the permit is to provide the Commonwealth with a method for capturing and tracking information on all wineries that are doing business with state residents by selling and then shipping wine directly to them. 
  • Establishes a method for annual reporting, for tax collection by the Department of Revenue and tracks companies who violate any of the stipulations related to the issuance of a license. 
  • Sets a limit of 12 cases a year assuring that the system will not be abused, and that the wine being shipped is for personal consumption and not for re-sale. (The responsibility for tracking this quantity limit is placed on the licensee not the consumer.)
  • Requires that each package be labeled with language that will allow common carriers to comply with the requirement that each wine package contain a warning label and that an adult must sign for delivery by utilizing the shipping labels currently in use in the 40 other legal winery shipping states.  This provision will help assure that wine is not delivered to minors by making the contents of the package clear, and directing the delivery company to collect the proper adult signature at delivery. 
  • Provides for the collection of state taxes as if the sale had taken place in Massachusetts. Tax collection will be based on reports made annually by the wine direct shipper license holders.  In addition, allowing regular audits of licensee’s records gives the state the opportunity to ensure the reporting is accurate and complete.
  • Provides the state with a method for prosecuting those companies who fail to comply with the licensure system.  All wineries who hold a direct shippers license must submit to the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth.  This prevents the law from being interpreted as an invitation to unregulated direct shipping and provides the Commonwealth with enforcement and penalty provisions to enforce the license system. 
  • Provides for an annual report by the ABCC to the Legislature regarding an overview of the state’s direct shipment program.
  • Removes the requirement that each package shipped contain labels unique to Massachusetts. This will allow national common carriers to conform to the intent of the bill:  That is to facilitate the direct shipment of wine to consumers in the Commonwealth.