Liquor Control looks at state compliance

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(Host)The Vermont Department of Liquor Control wants to know if the state is complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision on mail order and Internet wine sales. The court’s ruling could be a big boost for many smaller wineries in the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Court ruled that if a state allows its citizens to purchase wine from businesses within its borders, using mail order or the Internet, it must allow consumers to purchase wine from out of state sources.

The ruling overturned laws in New York and Michigan that allowed in state purchases but banned out of state sales.

When the decision was handed down several weeks ago, some observers felt Vermont would be directly affected by the ruling but Liquor Control Commissioner Michael Hogan doesn’t agree.

Hogan says Vermont’s law is consistent with the ruling but there’s an interesting twist.

Vermont allows consumers to order products from in state wineries. It also allows consumers to buy wine from out of state sources but the individual must first obtain a state permit. Hogan says the permits are free but he acknowledges that it’s a cumbersome process.

(Hogan) “I don’t think we do discriminate. We allow in state shipment. And we allow out of state shipment. I think we fall within the pieces of the court’s decision. It may not be streamlined enough for people that are looking for the direct shipment procedure that other states have. But we have it. And can it be even streamlined more? Sure. I’m sure it can be.”

(Kinzel) Hogan would like lawmakers next winter to support legislation that would require out of state wine companies to register with his department if they want to do business in Vermont.

(Hogan) “I think the state is missing out on potential tax revenue from stuff that’s imported into the state and why not have the state benefit from it.”

(Kinzel) Some critics of Internet wine sales are concerned that underage individuals will be able to purchase these products using a credit card – Hogan says the Court didn’t see this as a major concern:

(Hogan) “Justice Kennedy didn’t think there was a very strong case on the issue of minors ordering vintage wines and things like that as long as you know the UPS or FedEx was delivering it to a residence and somebody of legal age was signing for the shipment.”

(Kinzel) The court’s ruling could benefit a growing number of small Vermont wineries because they will now be able to ship their products to all fifty states. A recent survey found that Vermont ranked 10th in the country in wine exports.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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