Direct Wine Shipping No Longer Bottled Up in the Bay State

When Governor Deval Patrick signed the latest budget, it included language to allow consumers to order crates of vino from out of state.

red wine

Red wine image uploaded by Daniella Segura on Flickr

Cheers, Governor Deval Patrick.

That’s what wine lovers are saying about the latest developments in the long battle to allow connoisseurs to order crates of wine from out-of-state vineyards, and have them delivered straight to their front door.

Beginning at the start of 2015, residents will have the luxury of merely hopping online, reaching out to wineries across the country, and placing orders on a limited supply of their product without having to head to the liquor store for a few bottles of vino.

Last week, when Patrick approved of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, it included a provision—with some restrictions, of course—that essentially pops the cork on laws that once prohibited Massachusetts residents from making direct purchases of wine. “The bill brings to a close a decade-long effort to overturn an archaic ban,” said members of Free the Grapes, a national grassroots movement comprised of winery owners, consumers, and retailers that led the charge to get Massachusetts to welcome interstate orders.

According to the group, the budget language signed off by Patrick is based on similar models for direct shipping that are common in a majority of states. The new law will require wineries to apply for a state-issued shipping license, that the deliveries get signatures from someone of legal drinking age, that consumers pay state excise taxes, and that orders be limited to 12 cases per year for each customer.

State Representative Theodore Speliotis, on of the bill’s original sponsors, said he’s excited about the the latest news. “I feel very good about it. I know that it’s a good compromise, and I think it will work, and we are allowing, more importantly, the opportunity to do what most folks can do in the rest of the country,” he said. “Massachusetts is pretty sophisticated, and I like to consider us a pretty cosmopolitan state and region, and not being able to join a wine club doesn’t fit in. If somebody wants to spend a little extra for a product like that, I think they have the right to do that. I’m grateful that we are able to come to some conclusion on the bill that meets the laws and standards across the board.”

The movement to “free the grapes” also had support from across the country, including a push from former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

In March 2013, Bledsoe, who owns a winery in Washington and has continuously tried to get his product sent to Massachusetts, joined Free The Grapes in promoting the passage of wine-direct legislation during a meeting on Beacon Hill.

When news surfaced Friday that his efforts paid off, Bledsoe celebrated and teased an announcement about a special Massachusetts wine release. “This is great news!,” he said in a tweet. “[I’m] excited that we can start shipping in January.”

Prior to the bill being signed into law, Massachusetts was one of a handful of states that prohibited these transactions, along with Utah, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, South Dakota, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Although it’s being considered a triumph, the language in the law does come with some restrictions, however. In order to tap into the direct-shipping methods in Massachusetts, some of the laws regarding truck permitting will need to be tweaked. As the Boston Globe noted in an editorial following the announcement about the law’s passage, current state law requires that each delivery truck have a permit to transport alcohol. With the special permits coming at a cost, sponsors of the bill are hoping to make changes so that a freight company will only be required to have one license for an entire fleet of vehicles.

But Speliotis said that issue is already being worked out. “I know there’s some legislation here that I think is going to be coming to me out of the Ways and Means Committee. It would create a $3,500 fleet license rather than an individual license, and I am very supportive of that,” he said.