Wisconsin Direct Shipping Bill Receives Governor's Signature

Sovos | March 14, 2008

Senate Bill 485 was passed into law yesterday, making Wisconsin the newest addition to the list of permit states. Wisconsin was one of the three remaining states that had yet to change their direct shipping laws since the Granholm ruling. Direct shipping law did not authorize intra-state shipments of wine to consumers, and the reciprocity agreement defined by Wisconsin only allowed California wineries to ship directly to the state’s residents. Now, a winery in any state may ship wine directly to a Wisconsin resident once the winery has received a direct wine shipper permit from Wisconsin.

The new direct wine shippers permit allows licensees (licensed wineries that are located in- and/or out-of-state) to ship wine directly to an of-age and non-intoxicated individual in Wisconsin. The individual may receive no more than 108 liters of wine annually from any combination of licensees. The individual is responsible for compliance with this annual limit. The fee for this permit is no more than $100/year. Sales tax, excise tax and reporting are required quarterly.

This is good news for direct to consumer sales – no capacity caps, no touchy age-validation restrictions… but there’s a catch concerning self-distribution: all sales to retailers must go through a wholesaler.

Legislative Intent… Without the 3-tier system, the effective statewide regulation and collection of state taxes on alcohol beverages sales would be seriously jeopardized. It is further the intent of the legislature that without a specific statutory exception, all sales of alcohol beverages shall occur through the 3-tier system, from manufacturers to licensed wholesalers to retailers to consumers. Face-to-face retail sales at licensed premises directly advance the state’s interest in preventing alcohol sales to underage or intoxicated persons and the state’s interest in efficient and effective collection of tax.

Luckily, there are a couple safeguards for small manufacturers.

“All wholesalers must work diligently to ensure that distribution channels are available for the sale of intoxicating liquor products through wholesalers to retailers in this state.”

The legislation isn’t clear about methods or consequences for wholesalers if they fail to adhere to this clause.

The other safeguard: small wineries (producing under 25,000 gallons of wine in a year) may group together to form a “Cooperative Wholesaler”; this Cooperative must become licensed to act as a regularly-licensed-wholesaler in order to sell to retailers or other regularly-licensed-wholesalers. The maximum number of Cooperatives allowed is six, and they must be created between October 1, 2008 and December 31st, 2008. The Cooperative must have a single location within the state of Wisconsin (a winery can only belong to one Cooperative). If the Cooperative’s members consist of both in- and out-of-state wineries, then the board of directors must also include both in- and out-of-state members. Members may not be employees of the Cooperative, but may volunteer.

The bill passed through the Senate and the House in late February and was approved by Governor Doyle on March 13th. Last year, a similar bill was passed by the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Governor Doyle partly because the bill would have banned self-distribution altogether, and did not “adequately address the needs of small entrepreneurial wineries.” This year’s bill seems to address the aforementioned needs and received backing by the Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute. The new law goes into effect on October 1, 2008.