From Point A to You | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

From Point A to You

What a deflated party balloon it was—filling up an online shopping cart only to get a denial: "Do not pass GO, do not collect your wine." At some point, you've probably made the same sad discovery I did several years ago: wineries cannot ship to individuals residing in Mississippi. Well, not legally anyway. Prohibition still exists in this state, at least when it comes to the issue of direct shipping for wine.

The Alcohol Beverage Control is the only channel for wine to enter the state. Mississippi Code § 67-1-41 states: "The State Tax Commission is hereby created a wholesale distributor and seller of alcoholic beverages, not including malt liquors, within the State of Mississippi. It is granted the sole right to import and sell intoxicating liquors at wholesale within the state." Two minor exceptions to this exist—one being that retailers can purchase limited amounts of alcohol from other authorized retailers.

Many people, myself included, hoped the Supreme Court decision in May 2005 would open up distribution avenues across the country. For New York and Michigan, that was the case. However, the ruling was not about reciprocity so much as discrimination. States allowing their own wineries to ship products to residents must allow other wineries to do so, as well. When the change took effect in 2006, the Old South Winery in Natchez voluntarily ceased shipping to Mississippi residents yet can continue to send wine to customers in other states. Its muscadine wine is still available on the premises or through the ABC.

Justification for not allowing wine shipments include loss of revenue (although states can still receive sales tax on purchases) and fear of placing alcohol in the hands of minors (hence labels demanding adult signatures that wineries must put on boxes). In several states, consumers and wineries are trying to make shipping available; several lawsuits are pending.

When I asked Kathy Waterbury at ABC if direct shipping would ever happen here, she stressed the fact that it is a political decision, and that ABC is not a political agency. As she put it, "We enforce the law; we don't make the policy." That is up to the Legislature, and they keep voting down the numerous bills that have been drafted to permit wineries Mississippi distribution, including one this year.

What do you, a wine lover, do in the meantime, when you cannot find that special wine locally? First, write letters and call your representatives, telling them to vote in favor of direct shipping. While waiting for results, ask your favorite wine shop to get that special bottle for you. If that fails, several southern states do allow individuals to have wine shipped. You can send it to family or friends and take a road trip to visit them.

Both Louisiana and Georgia allow wineries to ship under specific circumstances. Virginia, Texas and Florida allow phone and online orders, though there may be a few hoops, such as tax forms and avoiding dry counties. To check on limits or permits, either call the winery directly or check the Wine Institute's helpful Web site that explains shipping laws.

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