Public Enemies 1 and 2 for Maryland Wine Consumers

The Baltimore Examiner posted the article below about the arugments that the opponents to the direct wine shipping bill made at the bill's hearing:

Public Enemies 1 and 2 for Maryland Wine Consumers

March 9, 9:31 PM DC Budget Wine Examiner Rob Garretson

Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway and Delegate Dereck E. Davis
Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway and Delegate Dereck E. Davis think the interests of liquor distributors trump those of Maryland consumers, who overwhelmingly support the direct wine shipping bill these two are blocking.


It’s hard to know the impact of Friday’s four hours of testimony in the Maryland General Assembly – with proponents out numbering opponents at least two to one – but according to media accounts and even the grass-roots organizers of movement to let Marylanders legally buy wine over the Internet, 2010 will not be our vintage.

Having sat through the excruciatingly long hearing on the House Bill 716 before the Maryland House of Delegates’ Economic Matters Committee, it’s hard to fathom how the measure to repeal the prohibition-era ban on direct-shipping of wine – co-sponsored by 106 of the 188 state legislators – could still be dead in the water. But despite what veterans of the years-long movement to end the ban said was the most “engaged” legislators have ever been in the debate, even the most optimistic proponents say they are still rolling a rock up a hill.

We won’t bore you with a verbatim account of our testimony, which we foreshadowed Friday in Mr Budget Wine Examiner Goes to Annapolis, except to say that we were near the tail end of more than 40 witnesses called and politely asked by the bill’s chief sponsor to not repeat points made earlier. So we tossed our prepared remarks and simply tried to summarize our reaction to some of the testimony from the opposition (which principally comes from the liquor distributors, aka the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, and the legislators who appear to be in their pockets).

To summarize more succinctly than we did in our allotted three minutes, what we learned from the opposition is that:

Convenience for Maryland consumers is bad. The opposition repeatedly derided proponents of direct wine shipping as wanting to change the system (heaven forbid!) for the convenience of Marylanders who want wine delivered to their doorstep. (How dare they want that! Who cares if they want it because they only have access to 15 percent of the wine selection available nationwide in their local stores controlled by a few powerful – and lazy – distributors.)

Marylanders should be happy with their 15 percent! We should be satisfied with the meager selection we have (Ever wonder why most of the value wines highlighted on this page are available only and for the best prices in Virginia and the District?), because thousands of jobs would be lost at Maryland distributors and retailers, if they were forced to compete with out-of-state retailers and wineries. It doesn’t matter that those out-of-state wines would carry hefty shipping costs of $1, $2, $3 per bottle on average. Marylanders are uncommonly slothful, the argument implicitly goes, and will gladly pay higher prices for home delivery. (The reality is, of course, the most Maryland wine drinkers would use direct wine deliveries – like consumers in the other 37 states that allow them – to get wines that they can’t get locally, particularly those from small boutique vineyards that don’t produce the volume to gain retail distribution here. There would be minimal if any impact on Maryland's retail wine trade.)

Children will be illegally buying wine on the Internet, because Federal Express and UPS can’t be trusted to require an adult signature for wine delivery. This is the worst of the red herring arguments; it’s a red herring made of straw! This one’s just too ludicrous to waste any more time on. But it’s related to the other big objection. …

Out-of-state wineries and retailers can’t be trusted to pay Maryland taxes. Unscrupulous out-of-state wine clubs and other evil gift-basket sellers are already shipping wine illegally into Maryland, and not requiring the proper proof-of-age for delivery, according to one Delegate who held up a mysteriously unmarked package he said contained wine shipped from Connecticut (uh, how exactly did he know that from the unopened, not properly labeled box, anyway?). That was supposed to be the smoking-gun evidence that we can’t legalize wine shipping, because bad people already break the law. Later in the hearing, the bill’s principal sponsor, Delegate Carolyn J. Krysiak, noted the obvious, that just because people break the law against murder doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a law against murder.

For those interested in learning more, there are lots of interesting accounts of the proceedings, among them the Baltimore Sun’s depressingly headlined story, "Wine shipping bill is all bottled up" and blog posts on Dave McIntyre’s WineLine and Dr. Vino, both detailing the abrupt resignation of the head of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, in an effort to remove his hardball lobbying tactics as a potential roadblock in the bill’s progress. And for a real blow-by-blow on the hearing and a good sense of the frustration generated by the slimy underbelly of Maryland politics, check out this entry on his Fermentation wine blog by Tom Wark, executive director of the Specialty Wine Retailers’ Association, who also testified on Friday.

Cheers, anyway!

Wineries with Permits

Wineries Able to Ship to MD

Here is a link to the Comptroller's website. Search for "DW-Direct Wine Shippers Permit" under permit type.

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