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Facing the Challenges of Shipping – 4 Steps for Small Wineries

Shipping wine directly to consumers across state lines continues to be a hot topic in the wine industry.  With the implementation of the so-called “Bush Bill” in 2006, each state now has the ability to regulate the laws in their own state – a double-edged sword.  With new legislation comes new compliance regulations that can be a nightmare for smaller wineries, both on an administrative and financial level.  And the ability to ship directly to consumers is constantly being challenged on both the federal and state levels, with the most recent threat coming from the infamous HR 5034 legislation.

I always recommend to my clients that they ship within the limits of the laws – we all know wineries that choose a different path.  The downside of that decision is that we are constantly having to explain why we can’t ship to customer in a certain state when “so-and-so” does it and they are right down the street.  In my opinion, consumers need to be educated about the shipping regulations their states have adopted and, if they disagree with it, lobby their state to change the laws.  If we continue circumventing the regulations, nothing will ever change – fine for those willing to risk their licenses for direct shipping; not so good for those of us who believe in following the rules and elicting change through the channels that have been set up.

So what can a small winery do?

1)  Focus your attention on key markets across the country, both in direct sales and wholesale sales.  Pick 4 or 5 areas that are good wine markets, get permitted and set up a system where your wholesale program supports your direct program.

2)  Support Free the Grapes! and other organizations who put forth efforts to change the shipping and compliance regulations across the country.  Even though you may be a small producer, you can be part of the larger voice.

3)  Educate your consumers – explain to them the shipping laws and encourage them to get involved at the state level so they can continue to get their favorite wine to share with friends and family.

4)  Hang it there!  Laws are constantly changing and great steps are taken every day to effect that change.  Who knows?  Maybe someday we will be able to ship to all 50 states legally!

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