Bill could curtail shipments of VA wine

By Matt Butner - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia's wine producers are worried a pending bill in Congress could hurt their ability to sell their product. That proposed law would give more power to states to block shipments of wine directly to customers. Local wine makers say it's unfair.

Ann Heidig of Lake Anna Winery is preparing to send a shipment of wine to a customer in Minnesota. Current rules allow her to do so, because Minnesota allows wineries in other states to ship directly to customers there. But that could soon change, if a bill before Congress becomes law.

"It's something that could in fact block our access to market. It could also be something that would cause the inability of consumers to get the wines they want from small wineries out of state," said Heidig.

Right now, a state that allows in-state wineries to ship to customers must also allow wine to come in from out of state. The current rules are based on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The new law would give states the power to block out-of-state shipments while still allowing in-state shipping. Heidig calls it another obstacle for Virginia's small wineries.

"It's really hard for the little guys to get anywhere, and with our access to any market restricted, it makes it that much harder," she said.

Supporters of the bill say it strengthens a state's right to regulate alcohol sales. They also say it would help prevent minors from getting their hands on wine - something that Heidig says wineries already address.

"We have to mark the box, and say you've got to be 21 to sign for it," Heidig said.

Virginia's wine industry is growing, and Heidig wants to keep it that way.

"I'd like Virginia to be seen as, if I can use the expression, the Napa Valley of the East Coast. But we see this as an impediment to growth, if in fact states that we currently ship to would decide to shut down," she added.

But at least for now, someone in Minnesota can enjoy a direct-shipped bottle of Virginia wine. The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law. Virginia's wine makers will be watching it closely.

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