"Where'd You Get That Wine?" asked Wine Spectator editor Mitch Frank in a blog post last week.
It's easy for him to say. He lives in Louisiana, where out-of-state retailers are allowed to ship wine. Here in neighboring Texas, it's illegal for out-of-state retailers to ship wine to our state's residents (although it is technically legal, by virtue of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, for U.S. wineries to ship directly to consumers).
We've written about the absurdity of our state's out-of-state shipping restrictions before.
The bottom line: If a wine is not distributed by a Texas distributor, there's no way to get it to Texas. That means that the wonderful "old vine" Vin de Savoie that I bought from a San Francisco-based online retailer is illegal in our state.
As Frank notes in his post, some retailers simply ignore the out-of-state shipping prohibition.
In my experience, small retailers are generally unafraid to ship to Texas residents, while large, high-profile shops in New York and Los Angeles, for example, are unwilling to ship wines here.
According to Frank, "36 states [including Texas] still don't permit direct shipping from out-of-state retailers. Their laws mandate that wine must go through a state-licensed wholesaler and a local retailer before you can buy it." (According to what I could find on the internets, our neighbor Louisiana made it legal for out-of-state retailers to ship there in 2011.)
Frank doesn't "begrudge" wholesalers for "trying to protect the three-tier system that mandated that wines travel from producer to wholesaler to retailer since Prohibition was repealed. If you had a guaranteed spot in the supply chain, wouldn't you lobby to keep it?"
But he also opines that these Prohibition-era restrictions acutely limit our palates:
[T]he wine world is so much bigger than it was when Prohibition was repealed. Tens of thousands of bottlings are available in the United States. However, the average wine consumer doesn't see the majority of them in their local market. Wholesalers don't carry them all. For good reason: It's not profitable to carry a small winery's product that only a few people want.
When I travel to California and New York, I see hundreds of labels that are not available to us here in Texas, including the small-production Vin de Savoie above. They're available to my wine-geek and wine-professional counterparts but not to us.
Is it really a crime to want to drink these wines in Texas? The wholesaler lobby has made it so.
Is the repression of a new generation of Texas wine lovers' palates and the censorship of a "small winery's product" an ethically indefensible act? In my view, there's no question that it is.
And it's also bad for business. As wine connoisseurship continues to expand beyond our borders, the new generation of wine professionals will not be able to keep up with current trends in the trade.
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If loving a small-production Vin de Savoie is wrong in our state, than I don't want to be right...