Indiana’s legislature showed a small bit of sanity in getting a shipping law passed for Hoosier wineries before closing the most recent session.
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, guided the legislation, removing the face-to-face requirement for Indiana wineries to ship wine to their customers. At one point, the licensing fee went from $100 annually to $500. That was plain and simple another case of the legislators bowing to the powerful liquor lobby, funded largely by alcohol distributors.
He urged supporters to keep the foot on the gas, and in the end the fee structure was set up on a graduating scale depending on production and alcohol shipped. A fair, if not arguably unnecessary, solution.
Indiana wineries could not be happier.
“When the law requiring an initial face-to-face transaction became effective, it literally destroyed our shipments to wine customers,” said Kim Doty, owner of French Lick Winery. “We lost 95 percent of our wine shipping sales. Our wine sold and shipped to customers in 2004 was about 10 percent of our total sales. Today with the face-to-face requirement, our shipping sales are less than one tenth of 1 percent of our total sales. This requirement has also had a negative impact on the growth of our wine club, with 99 percent of our wine club sales are shipped directly to the home.”
Again, that face-to-face requirement was added to legislation in 2008 as a token to the alcohol lobby but crippling, in particular, to small wineries.
Wineries like French Lick were forced to play along but at a steep price. “We have accumulated over 5,400 completed verification forms to date. We would have sold and shipped at least twice that if not for the requirement.”
The new law requires age verification, but all shipping laws generally do. Wineries can meet the requirement by using an age verification delivery service like FedEx or UPS.
“We are thrilled with having the requirement rescinded,” Doty said. “Age verification will still be performed by the delivery company, and we will pay additional fees for this service. We are confident that our wine shipments are properly handled in accordance with Indiana’s age requirement for liquor.”
Jim Butler, Butler Vineyards near Bloomington, has long been one of the industry’s leading spokespersons and advocate for sanity in wine-shipping laws and more.
“We are basically back to where we were nine or 10 years ago,” Butler said. “With the face-to-face requirement we lost 90 percent of our shipping business. Perhaps now we can build it back. This is a nice step forward. It is always a battle of the titans at the Statehouse about alcohol issues, big money, big players. We are just little guys. It is one small step toward sanity.”
Sanity? That seldom happens with the legislature and liquor laws. Just look at what happened this year with Sunday sales. A simple law was mangled with requirements that would have retailers build walls in existing stores to sell alcohol on Sundays.
Fortunately, the legislature got it right for all Indiana wineries, big and small, in 2015.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 newspapers. Reach Howard at: firstname.lastname@example.org