OK, I get it. US state and city governments and law enforcement agencies were absolutely shell shocked by the end of Prohibition. I mean, after the rampant bootlegging, proliferation of speak-easies and the boom of organized crime that was the gratitude to the 18th Amendment over the skinny 13 years - a time frame that, inopportunely, also hosted the Great Depression - who could blame the recoil after repeal? So when in 1933 the federal government replaced the 18th with the 21st - which effectively gave all the states the right to make their own autonomous alcohol laws - it is no wonder that the “Great Experiment” yielded these crazy results.
So what do we have now? Pandemonium! A nation of 50 different alcohol fiefdoms that are adjoined by a massive interstate system (save two, of course). Wanna send your friend in Kentucky a bottle of wine in gratitude for hosting you and yours at their home last summer? No can do - Kentucky and 12 other states still consider it a crime to ship alcohol directly to its resident’s homes. Wanna open a restaurant in Pennsylvania? Sure, be our guest, but you do not have access to the wholesale tier to purchase wine for your wine list - you’ll be shopping in the same retail aisles and paying the same marked up prices as consumers, then you’ll have to build your profit in on top of that. You can buy wine in the supermarket in Hawai’i and New Jersey, but not in New York. In most states, if you want to have a mimosa with your Sunday brunch, you still have to wait until noon to order it. There are even some counties that are “dry” - yes, that means that alcohol is prohibited within the county limits. Stories of rows of liquor stores that press up against the county line in the very next, usually very wet, county abound. And yes, it is a crime to return across that county line with alcohol (legal contraband) in your possession.
What if you want to open a lovely little wine shop in a swank New York City neighborhood? You can do it, but be prepared to pay rent on an empty space until you have finished gathering all of the necessary items - questionnaires, bank statements, penal bonds, proofs of citizenship. You have to get fingerprinted by the police and in addition to the lease, your land lady has to further affirm that she is giving you a right to use this premises, but is not a shareholder in the business. And you or any of your investors can’t be employed by the NYPD. And even though the legal age for someone to work in a wine shop is 18, your investors must all be at least 21.
At least I can open a shop, though. If you are running or working in a wine shop in Pennsylvania or Utah, you are a state employee. If you’re a consumer, well, your selection is limited to only what the state alcohol-beverage-liquor-control-board-authority-guys decide they want to buy for the stores statewide. Special requests? Prepare to jump through bureaucratic hoops! But I can only open one shop - New York State law prohibits me from having more than one off premise (retail) license, so my dreams of expansion are presently deferred (until I figure out another way around it).
Yes, I get it; criminals made it big during Prohibition, the Great Experiment that went so wrong. But 76 years have elapsed since its repeal - doesn’t it seem fitting that these laws should be reviewed and brought up to date? I’m no Al Capone. I just wanna sell wine and make babies!
For more information on the various state laws regarding wine and wine shipping, visit our friend Shackles at Free the Grapes.org.