Why Can't I Have a Boston Wine Party?

jdeegler | June 1, 2007

The current lawsuit Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins challenges an important aspect of the Massachusetts law regarding direct to consumer shipment of wine by out of state wineries. Recent articles have mentioned that the production limits adopted by Massachusetts act as a method of protecting in state wineries from interstate commerce and restrict the choices of Massachusetts residents. Family Winemakers of California’s complaint asserts that

“in purpose and effect, the limits imposed by these capacity caps fall solely upon out-of-state wineries, whereas Massachusetts wineries continue to enjoy unfettered access to the Massachusetts market.”

Another aspect of the Massachusetts law which is thwarting the delivery of out-of-state wines is the customer aggregate volume limit, which restricts the delivery of wine to 240 liters (about 26 cases) per consumer per year for all wineries. In effects, the law burdens wineries to keep track of how much wine each Massachusetts consumer has purchased not only from their winery, but from all wineries across the country. Wineries that do ship directly to Massachusetts consumers risk violating this provision exposing themselves to fines and loss of shipping privileges.

As important as the removal of production caps and customer volume limits are, the biggest hurdle facing wineries is that neither FedEx nor United Parcel Service offers delivery of wine into the state of Massachusetts. Under the current laws, common carriers are required to obtain and carry in each delivery vehicle a special permit to deliver wine. As a result of this and other anomalous provisions, carriers refrain from delivering wine into Massachusetts. Absent a vehicle for shipping, wineries are unable to send their wines into the Commonwealth, forgoing potential profits from one of the largest wine consuming states and a venue to showcase their artistry. Moreover, Massachusetts residents are affected as the law unreasonably restricts their access to the national marketplace and their freedom of choice in wines.

In the wake of Granholm, it makes sense for wineries to challenge the type of legislative provisions like those currently under attack in Massachusetts. However, once production limits are banned, the next step toward true Direct to Consumer shipping is the abrogation of customer volume limits and anomalous common carrier provisions like those found in the Massachusetts General Laws.