Open borders to out-of-state wine


We find ourselves in the odd position of hoping an out-of-state firm wins its lawsuit against the state of Maine.

Mainers should have access to the hundreds of wines that are available elsewhere in the U.S., and Maine wineries should have the right to ship to out-of-state customers.

Right now, imports and exports are illegal in Maine, and Maine’s consumers and small wineries pay the price.

Interestingly, the state has no way of enforcing its law. It disbanded its liquor control department several years ago, and basically has no way to track imports or exports. Out-of-state wineries can and do ship to Maine, making technical criminals out of the shippers and receivers.

So Cherry Vineyard of Rickreall, Ore., has filed suit in federal court against the state’s ban on direct sales of wine to Maine consumers, and we think it has a good case. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws in Michigan and New York that banned direct Internet and telephone wine sales.

However, Maine argues that because it bans exports from local wineries, the Supreme Court decision does not apply. We buy that logic, and we do not think the federal court will, either.

Basically, Maine’s objection is that cases of wine will end up in the hands of young people.

This, too, is illogical. A determined teenager can buy wine and beer locally, and at a much lower cost.

Buying wine on the Internet is expensive, and the young person would have to wait up to two weeks for it to arrive. Plus, delivery services are required to obtain a photo ID and check the receiver’s age before handing over the wine.

“They (young drinkers) scrape together $3 for a six pack of beer and they want it now, says law professor James Tanford of Indiana University School of Law.

Maine law requires large wineries to distribute their products only through wholesalers. That may be good for the middlemen, but it isn’t good for Maine’s consumers.

Wine drinkers end up with a limited assortment of wines, basically those from large vineyards chosen by distributors. And struggling small wineries here lose access to out-of-state customers.

Tanford said laws in more than 20 states have been challenged in federal court since 1998, half are still pending, but the wineries have one every case but one.

If Maine’s legislators are unwilling to modernize liquor control laws, the federal courts appear likely to do it for them.