Way back in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that wine lovers – including us – hailed as one that would finally end the confusion of the nation’s many wine shipping laws.
Boy, were we ever wrong.
More than four years later, things are more confusing than ever, and though we’ve written about the issue time and time again, we continue to get letters from readers asking us to explain it again. We’re happy to do that, but we also have an even better suggestion: Write to your state legislators, because they are the ones who created the system we have in Indiana now, and only they can change it.
And here’s an even better reason to write to them – the liquor lobbyists benefit greatly from the current system, and they are dropping bags of cash on your elected representatives every chance they get. So if you don’t write or call them, whom do they have left to listen to? That’s right, the guy with free tickets to the luxury suite over the Colts’ 50-yard line who wants to pay for their next re-election.
So here are some questions we’ve gotten recently that should help get you up to speed on the current situation.
If I am in Napa, can I have wine shipped to my home in Indiana? Do I need to obtain a permit?
I moved from California to Bloomington about a year ago and have been confused about the rules regarding shipping wines into Indiana. I was just looking at various Bordeaux future offerings online, but is it illegal for retailers in either California or Illinois to ship wines to me? While in Chicago a few weeks ago, I went into a retailer/auction house, and they claimed that they had no problems shipping wines to Indiana. Also, if I bought wines in California (in person), could I ship them to myself here in Indiana? Thanks for your help!
OK, here’s how the law currently works: Any winery in the nation may ship wine to your house if, first, it has a $100 annual Indiana wine shipping permit and, second, you have been to that winery in person to document that you are of legal age.
Notice that we said winery – not wine store. The law allows only wineries to get a shipping permit.
Of course, all of this is being fought over in the courts. Currently, there are conflicting federal appellate decisions on the face-to-face requirement, as one appellate court upheld Indiana’s law and another struck down Kentucky’s. That creates the possibility the U.S. Supreme Court will wade back into the issue.
The fact that retailers are left out is also being argued in court, thanks to Fort Wayne’s own Andy Lebamoff and his Cap n’ Cork stores, which for decades helped customers receive shipments from wine clubs. Because out-of-state wine clubs could not ship wine to Indiana customers, they would ship the wine instead to an Indiana wholesaler, who would deliver it to Cap n’ Cork. Cap n’ Cork would then use a common carrier like UPS to deliver the wine to the customer, collecting state taxes along the way.
That practice ended in May after a complaint from the head of Wine and Spirits Distributors of Indiana – the state’s liquor lobby.
Lebamoff claims the state gave him permission decades ago to use a common carrier to deliver to customers, and we believe him since the state gave permission to Indiana wineries to do the same thing. We’ve seen the letter the state sent the wineries in the 1980s, which was entered as evidence in one of the court battles. The wording in that letter is crystal-clear.
So what does all this mean? In the end, it means only that it is illegal for a winery without permits and face-to-face transactions to ship wine to you, and illegal for wine stores and auction houses regardless. It’s not illegal, however, for you to accept shipments, and many wineries and retailers will ship regardless of the law. If you can find one that will do it – and they seem to grow in number every day – feel free.
And finally, there is the question of shipping wine to yourself. The answer is a resounding yes, it can be done, and it is legal on the same principle that wineries and retailers rely on when making shipments the law does not allow: You are shipping wine you own to yourself. Retailers argue that once you purchase wine from them, it belongs to you, and you are shipping it to yourself, which you clearly have a right to do.
If you order something from a catalog, the argument goes, it belongs to you the instant you pay for it, which is why they will replace it if it is damaged during shipping. It is, after all, your property that was broken.
As for how to go about shipping wine to yourself, it’s our understanding that there are shipping places in Napa that specialize in helping people do exactly that.