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Direct wine shipping: Progress, but problem not solved

A legislative research committee held a hearing on Monday on whether or not wine distributors should be allowed to ship customers bottles of wine in the mail, and how the shipping could be regulated.Joe Ahlquist/Argus Leader via Associated Press

For wine lovers, the Legislature has some good news. Sort of. As part of the budget, lawmakers have passed legislation to let out-of-state wineries sell and ship a limited amount of wine directly to customers in Massachusetts. Not without some fees and safeguards, of course. First, the wineries will have to get a permit (cost: $300). Any one customer would be limited to 12 cases a year from any one winery. The wine would have to be received by someone of legal age. And state tax will, of course, have to be paid.

Still, for wine aficionados, this is progress. Under pressure from local liquor-industry interests, the Legislature has dragged its feet in complying with a 2005 US Supreme Court decision that ostensibly limited states’ ability to prevent wineries from shipping directly to consumers.

Now the bad news. Another impediment may well have to be addressed before out-of-state bottles start being delivered to Massachusetts homes. Current state law requires that each truck involved in the delivery of alcohol must have a special permit. In most states, one permit per freight company suffices. The individual permitting requirement could well keep some companies from delivering wine.


So while Governor Patrick is expected to approve the budget rider allowing for direct out-of-state wine sales, the job is only half-done. State Representative Ted Speliotis, Democrat of Danvers, and the lawmaker responsible for the direct-wine-sales legislation, says that if the existing law has a detrimental effect, he’ll push for a fleet-wide permit system. At the very least, the state’s status quo will mean higher delivery charges; after all, the individual truck permits cost a total of $200 per vehicle.

So although lawmakers have taken an important step here, they still need to change the delivery-truck law. Only then will it truly be time to propose a toast to elected officials for putting customer convenience over entrenched interests and the public sector’s regulatory impulse.