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The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars." Benjamin Franklin, American inventor and statesman, 1706-1784.

Sending Wine Gifts


Christmas was coming, time was short, and I needed to get gifts to people in Pennsylvania and Virginia.


The holiday, which had seemed so distant, was suddenly close. Somewhere between desperation and genius, I decided to send both parties bottles of wine. I heaved a sigh of relief. There were links to Internet sites that sell and deliver wine on the Weekend Winery site. A few minutes browsing, a quick transaction, and the gifts would be on the way, I thought. Hah!


Virginia was easy. I clicked on an icon, went to the wine-seller's site, made my selection, and checked out. Routinely handled, with prompts for a gift message and a range of choices. Done.


Then I tried to send something to Pennsylvania. My first choice would not ship wine there and I began to suspect I had a problem developing.


In retrospect, I should have changed plans then and there. As mentioned in previous newsletters, not all states allow wine to be shipped directly to consumers within their borders. Twenty-four states currently have laws prohibiting that in one form or another, and a few make the act a felony.


But I thought I recalled that there was a way to ship into Pennsylvania from out of state legally. Some states allow it but have requirements that must be met by the shipper. Sometimes this means maintaining a shipping warehouse or office in the state. Sometimes it means registration with the state including fees and reporting requirements. I remembered that Pennsylvania had state liquor stores, so I was pretty sure this was a state with limitations and requirements.


The next four links I clicked on from the Weekend Winery site would not ship to Pennsylvania. The fifth one did, but under a procedure that looked like it had been intentionally designed to discourage anyone from trying to do such a foolish thing. I was encouraged to find someone who would do this, but was sure there had to be an easier way. I went to the website of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) to see what the story was.


The good news is that the site is well done and I did find information on direct shipping as they applied to Pennsylvania residents, along with a list of licensed Direct Wine Shippers (two of our linked sites, Wine Messenger and Viansa Winery, are included on the very short list). The rest boggles the mind.


To begin with, you can only order the wine from an Internet site. If I read this correctly, you cannot walk into a liquor store or winery in another state and have them ship it to your home in Pennsylvania. You cannot place such an order by phone or FAX or US mail.


The consumer is charged with checking the PLCB catalog. Why? You cannot legally order wine from a Direct Wine Shipper if the PLCB carries it in their catalog.


You are also limited to 9 liters (1 case) from any single Direct Shipper in a given month.


Pennsylvania requires that the wine be shipped to a PLCB Wine & Spirits store. An adult is required to go to the store to pick up the wine and sign an affidavit stating they are at least 21 years of age. Expect to add a $4.50 handling fee, Pennsylvania's 18% liquor tax, 6% sales tax (1% more sales tax in Philadelphia & Allegheny counties) to the price of the wine and shipping charges from the Direct Wine Shipper.


I went back to the Wine Messenger site. Near as I could see, they were merely complying with all this and simplifying the process for me. I went to the Viansa site and discovered they would not ship wine to Pennsylvania due to legal restrictions. Great. PLCB thought Viansa could; Viansa said they could not.


Being the sort who follows things to the end, I checked a few other places. Most refuse to ship where they might fall into the legal tangles, but there are some shippers who claim to ship anywhere in the country. If you read the conditions, you will probably note some language saying that title to the wine passes to you as soon as they put it on the truck, and that any legal restrictions are your lookout. Do not call them if your wine is confiscated or legal problems ensue.


All of this is the result of Prohibition, the XXI Amendment ending it, and the subsequent passing of regulation over alcohol sales to the individual state governments in 1933. In December of 2004, the Supreme Court heard arguments on cases involving New York and Michigan wine-shipping laws as they relate to interstate trade; they are expected to rule on these in the Spring of 2005.


This is a complex issue. Many people have strong opinions about it. My own is that the rules on interstate shipping are horrendously complex and over-bearing to the point where they interfere with reasonable commerce. There must be some risk of underage children ordering wine over the Internet, but surely we can devise better means to deal with that than Pennsylvania has here. The emphasis in that state seems to be on protecting the state monopoly on state liquor sales (and the consequent tax and other revenue involved).

What about the gift, you say? Well, I sent one to Pennsylvania, but I sent something different than I originally intended. A shame when you have to select a present based on the hoops you have to jump through.

 Last modified: August 07, 2007