Oenophiles (and wine lovers who think the term "oenophile" sounds disgusting) rejoiced today at the 5-4 decision handed down by the Supreme Court on the three cases collectively known as the Wine Cases.
To wit: Many states (over half) charge hefty fees or otherwise find ways to prevent out-of-state small wineries from shipping wine directly to customers. Michigan and New York were two of these states, and wine lovers and vintners teamed up against the state liquor wholesalers in three cases that were combined at the Supreme Court. The cases were heard in November.
At issue were various interpretations of both the commerce clause and the 21st Amendment. States felt that the 21st Amendment (the one that repealed prohibition) gave them unlimited control over the flow of alcohol within their borders. In the decision handed down today, the court found that while states have a great deal of control over alcohol, the Commerce Clause is not invalidated regarding alcohol because of the 21st Amendment.
Wine lovers, as I said, rejoiced. I myself am planning to start a "50 wines from 50 states" buying spree sometime fairly soon.
But we must not rejoice too much. The decision did not force states to allow out-of-state wineries to ship products to customers within their borders. Instead, it forced states that allow in-state wineries to ship direct to also now allow out-of-state wineries to ship direct.
But not all states allow in-state wineries to ship direct. Some states ban any form of direct shipping of alcohol whatsoever (Utah, for example). The decision provides no relief to residents of those states.
Furthermore, states that currently allow in-state wineries to ship directly to customers, such as New York and Michigan, now have a choice. They can lower the fees they charge to out-of-state wineries, the can raise the fees they charge in-state wineries (which would pretty much force a lot of them to forgo direct shipping and internet sales), or they can ban the practice altogether.
It remains to be seen what will actually happen. In theory, at least, until the legislature comes back into session to revise the laws, those states that had convoluted direct-sales laws (like Michigan, New York, and Florida) have seen those statutes completely invalidated. Perhaps it's possible, therefore, to order wine over the internet and have it shipped to your home in Florida without having to pay any fees whatsoever. Or, perhaps it means nothing has changed until the legislature reviews the matter. At the very least, states will be forced to reexamine their internet-sales laws (at least as regards alcohol), and that gives us a chance to lobby them. Now if only I could afford a lobbyist...
Here's a nice little website with some info about where you can order out-of-state wine on the internet. The map shows which states prohibit it, but in fact most of those states don't prohibit it; they simply make it so onerous for out-of-staters to ship that in practice they ban it. I imagine this site will have lots of updates over the coming weeks.