News from Annapolis
By Michael Cullison
When vacationing wine lovers stumble on something they love, it stands to reason they would want to enjoy a bottle at home. But it isn’t so easy for Marylanders to walk into a local wine shop and ask for the juice they’ve sampled in the Finger Lakes or Napa. Maryland retail stores are limited to selling wines that have a Maryland distributor. Of all the wineries in the U.S., only 17 percent have national distribution and far fewer have local distribution. Many local and smaller wineries don’t even use distributors, but self-distribute locally or sell only from their tasting rooms. As a result, many wines are not available even in well stocked retail stores. So wine consumers turn to acquiring the wines they desire via online ordering. But wine delivery has its own challenges. Wine shipping is confusing even for people who work in the industry. Each of the 50 states has its own regulations— in fact, shipping guidelines have become so confusing that Amazon closed its marketplace for wine at the end of 2017, citing the complicated web of laws on alcohol sales, which the behemoth company has unsuccessfully tried to change. Most Maryland wine lovers are aware that laws have been recently amended. Once a “closed state” when it came to shipping of wine—whether from a Maryland winery or your favorite California spot—the law was changed in 2011. The direct wine shipment concept, introduced in House Bill 1175, allowed for in-state or out-of-state wineries with wine manufacturer licenses to obtain Direct Wine Shipper’s Permits issued by the comptroller of Maryland. This allows wineries to ship wine to your personal residence through a common carrier, such as FedEx or UPS. While it’s great news for many an oenophile, there’s still some devilment in the details. Here are the answers to questions many ask when it comes to shipping wine to your Old Line home.
Q Can I now order that boutique wine from that little chateau in France?
You can’t. You can only order from specific U.S. wineries that have a Maryland direct shipper’s permit. To date, the comptroller’s office has issued 920 permits, 30 to Maryland wineries. To be eligible to ship wine here, wineries must apply for a permit, with an annual fee of $200, and secure a $1,000 bond in Maryland.
Q Can I now join a wine of the month club or order from retail licensees?
Only if the wine-of-the-month club or vendor actually makes wine. One of the qualifications for a shipping permit is that the shipper hold a Maryland Class 3 or Class 4 manufacturer’s license, or be licensed outside of Maryland to engage in the manufacture of wine.
Q I have a friend who lives in another state where my favorite wine is made. Can they mail it to me?
No. Unfortunately it’s not legal for private individuals to ship wine to Maryland. In addition, the U.S. Postal Service will not ship alcohol.
Q A friend says she orders wine from all over via online stores. How does that work?
Some online stores will take orders and enlist wineries with permits to ship it. Many online retailers will ship wine to states that may not permit it, adding to the confusion and exposing some unsuspecting wine consumers to violations.
Q Can beer and spirits be shipped?
These are only provisions for shipping wine. At this time shipping beer and spirits is still illegal.
Q How can I find out who has permits to ship wine to Maryland?
Go to the website taxes.marylandtaxes. com and search “direct wine shipment” for a complete searchable list of in-state and out-of-state wineries. I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion. After all, we should all be relaxing and sipping, rather than fretting over shipping.
Mike Cullison’s many years in the beverage industry have included gigs as beverage supervisor for a hotel, wine shop owner, salesman for a distributor and manager of a local winery. He shares his passion for local craft beverages hosting the “Thirsty Maryland” podcast.