Will Amazon.com finally end the war over direct wine shipping?

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
March 19 2008 3:21 PM

Shipping News

Will Amazon.com end the war over direct wine deliveries?

(Continued from Page 1)

But it turns out the indignation about an Amazon-Wine.com partnership was unnecessary: Decanter erroneously reported that the two were pairing up. Nor, two weeks later, has Amazon actually confirmed that it is entering the wine business (though the job ad is still posted). However, fallout from Wine.com's online vigilantism continues to rain down. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America recently sent a letter to officials in all 50 states calling attention to the Wine.com sting and highlighting the "astounding and revealing" reaction of some in the wine community. It cited an article by New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov in which he admitted to having a bottle illegally shipped to him by a retailer in California. "That a newspaper of record would publish such comments in the full light of day, we believe, ought to trouble any regulator, lawmaker or law enforcement official," the letter intoned. "Lack of enforcement has clearly allowed this culture of lawlessness to flourish. ..."

No, asinine laws have allowed it to flourish. Stephen Bainbridge, a law professor at UCLA who also maintains an excellent wine blog, is sticking by what he wrote in a column for TCS Daily on the one-year anniversary of the Granholm decision: "We're no closer to a true national wine market; instead, both producers and consumers are still mired in the economic Balkans." Bainbridge thinks the best hope of fixing the current distribution system is to challenge it on antitrust grounds. Costco, the country's largest wine retailer, mounted just such an effort in a suit it brought against the state of Washington four years ago. It won a resounding victory in a federal district court in 2006, but that verdict was overturned in late January by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Costco is appealing to have the case heard by the entire 9th Circuit, and there is a chance the matter will end up before the Supreme Court—eventually. "I am just damn glad I live in California," says Bainbridge, noting that his home state has some of the most progressive shipping laws in the nation.

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By now, the same analogy that occurs to me has possibly occurred to you: The way we transport and deliver booze in this country is as Byzantine as the process by which we choose presidents. Earlier this month, the battle over wine and the battle for the White House even intersected, briefly. At the same time that Hillary Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson was comparing Barack Obama to Ken Starr, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association was circulating a fundraising letter lauding Starr's leadership in the fight to liberalize interstate shipping laws (you read right: Ken Starr is trying to make it easier for you to buy wine, not harder). Personally, I think the current primary system is no way to choose a president, and the three-tier distribution system is definitely no way to get a man his grog.

And with that, my first and last article about interstate wine shipping comes to an end. Thank you for reading, and pass the Tylenol.

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