Earth Notes
4:37 am
Tue February 21, 2006

AZ wineries fight to sell direct

Phoenix, AZ –


State law is set up with what is called a three-tiered
system of alcohol distribution. The manufacturer sells
it to the wholesaler who sells it to the retailer
before it gets to the customer. But in 1982 legislators
created a special exemption to let small domestic
wineries ship their product directly to customers and
stores. The idea was to help nourish the new industry.
Everything went along just fine until last year when
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that similar laws in other
states were unconstitutional because they gave special
treatment to in-state wineries that were not available
to companies from other states. That decision alarmed
some of the people who own wineries like Rod Keeling
who has 8 1/2 acres south of the Chiricahua National
Monument in Cochise County. He said that without the
ability to ship directly to customers he will go out of
business.

(We are very remote. We're not on a highway. We're 43
miles from Willcox, 46 miles from the nearest grocery
store, 24 miles from the post office. And it's in
Pearce, Arizona, which is a ghost town.)

Keeling and other winemakers are proposing to expand
current law to allow other small wineries nationwide --
those producing up to 50,000 gallons a year -- to also
ship directly to Arizonans. That would solve the
constitutional problem. But the wholesalers have their
own solution to the court ruling: Block anyone from
delivering directly to Arizonans -- including the
wineries that have been doing it for all these years.
Mark Osborn, whose Protect 21 Coalition is financed
largely by wholesalers, said the Internet and phone
sales which would be authorized under this legislation
make it easy for minors to get their hands on booze.

(Yes there are provisions in the bill that say there
has to be a signature. But who's going to enforce that?
The liquor department tracking every Fed Ex driver that
they don't leave that box on a busy route? That is a
very troubling factor and you need to consider that.)

Osborn said the Arizona wineries should be able to sell
their products only through that three-tiered system so
that a licensed retailer ensures the buyer is of legal
drinking age. But Eric Glomski who owns Page Springs
Vineyards and Cellars near Cornville said working with
distributors is not the answer.

(We are selling something more than just wine. We're
selling an experience. When people come to Arizona and
try our wine, it's not just wine. It's meeting us and
seeing our farms and buying a product that represents
that.)

He said wholesalers can't provide that level of
representation. That still left the issue of underage
drinking. But Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick said she's not
convinced that allowing direct sales will create a
problem.

(I checked with people who worked with children who are
abusers. They told me they're not wine conniseurs. They
don't purchase wine over the Internet. Again for a
couple of reasons. They don't have credit cards they
can use. They don't have credit in their name. And
they're interested in drinking beer and hard liquor.)

But Rep. Jerry Weiers said that's not his own
recollection.

(I can reemember many years ago when I was that age.
And, in fact, a lot of kids did drink wine because it
was cheap. I think kids will do whatever kids do,
whatever the options and whatever's available to them.)

The measure cleared the House Committee on Natural
Resources and Agriculture Monday on an 8-2 vote. But
that isn't the end of the matter. On Wednesday the
House Commerce Committee will take up the wholesalers'
bill -- the one that would end all direct shipments. In
Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is Howard
Fischer.