Sunday, March 9, 2008

Direct Wine Shipping to Florida in Jeopardy

I knew this was coming up soon. Another sign of the apocalypse or at least another sign that Florida is destined to take as many backward steps possible in making this an advanced and progressive state. Heck, we just allowed evolution to be taught in schools (but only as a scientific theory, which is more than can be said for creationist theory. What’s their proof?).

A few years ago the Supreme Court struck down protectionist laws regarding direct wine shipping. In a nutshell, the Court said that states could not discriminate between in and out of state wineries shipping to citizens within a state. In Florida for example, the few wineries which we have in the state were allowed to ship their product to individuals; however, wineries from out of state were prohibited from shipping directly to consumers and had to go through retailers via distributors. After the Court’s decision Florida had no choice but to open its borders and allow all U.S. wineries the ability to ship directly to Floridians after filing regulatory and tax-related paperwork. This was a boon to Floridians who could now get wine from their favorite wineries regardless of the state in which they’re located.

But now we’re about to pull the typical Floridian ass-backwards move. There a not one, not two, but FOUR bills in the legislature (two in the House and two in the Senate) which impose all sorts of restriction on direct wine shipment. One thing all have in common however is a restriction on the size of the winery where a Floridian can order wine from. The winery can only produce a maximum of 250,000 gallons of wine, which is a heck of a lot of wine. However, with holding companies buying more and more boutique wineries, it gets to a point where even a teeny tiny winery, if part of a big conglomerate, would not be allowed to ship to this state.

Who’s behind all this? Why should so many state legislators care about direct wine shipment? Well, Florida is home to Southern Wine and Spirits (SW&S), the largest wine, beer and liquor distributor in the state (as well as the country). They’re based in Miramar but have distributorships in most major states. So who’s sponsoring these bills? They happen to all represent the districts of Southeast Florida! They’re Representatives Rene Garcia (Hialeah) and Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff (Fort Lauderdale) and Senators Gwen Margolis (Eastern Miami-Dade/Southeast Broward) and Steven Geller (Broward County). Research shows the following donations to each individual’s previous campaigns:
Steven Geller ($500 each from SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors),
Rene Garcia ($500 from Diageo, SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, Harvey Chaplin (founder SW&S), and Florida Wholesale Spirits),
Ellyn Bogdanoff ($6,500 worth of donations from the Food & Beverage industry including 2 donations from SW&S of Florida, SW&S of South Carolina, Gold Coast Beverage Distributors and Florida Wholesale Spirits),
Gwen Margolis ($500 each from SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors).

So there you go. All four bills have been introduced by persons whose districts basically cover Miami-Dade and Broward counties and who have received donations from various liquor distributors. Arguments against direct shipping include the possibility of those under 21 years of age ordering wine and the effect of direct shipping on local distributors who have spent millions setting up legal distribution channels. Counterarguments for both issues are easy. Delivery services are required to have someone 21+ sign for packages containing direct-shipped wine so chances are it’s easier for an underage person to acquire alcohol at their local liquor store than via mail (and what teenager do you know would get drunk on Screaming Eagle or Seasmoke?). As for distributors, the amount of wine ordered direct is so miniscule compared to that any effect on their business would be negligible.

What this bill effectively does is give local distributors the decision as to what you can buy on the shelves of your local wine shop or supermarket. If a winery doesn’t have a distributor in FLA, you’re not going to get their wine. For small wineries this will make Florida off limits because our giant distributors will avoid wineries that can’t fulfill large orders for their retail clientele.

So what can you do if you care? If you’ve read my rant this far you might as well help me fight the power! Write to the introducers of these House and Senate bills, write to your local Representatives, and write to Governor Christ. Lookup information on Free the Grapes (a non-profit organization trying to lift wine shipping bans in all 50 states). Keep Florida from reverting back to a backwards Puritan state. And order some wine from another state before it’s too late!

Gwen Margolis e-mail
Steven Geller e-mail
Rene Garcia e-mail
Ellyn Bogdanoff e-mail

1 comment:

Steven said...

NJ is moving on legislation