Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kentucky’s Archaic Alcohol Laws

You know Christmas time is nearing because of the leaflets that fall into my mailbox with the falling leaves of autumn. If it is not Dell or Fossil then it’s some cheese and wine hamper business trying to get me to buy something. And it’s the latter that really depresses me…again. On the back of their brochure they clearly state that Kentucky is one of the states they are not allowed to ship wine to. So why send me the brochure? Don’t they know that I would have loved to buy wine through the mail or over the Internet? Do they have to taunt me? Or is it their subliminal way to prod me to take action to get Kentucky out of the dark ages of prohibition. For God’s sake, prohibition ended in 1933! Yes, you can buy wine in select areas in Kentucky, but only if it is brought in via a wholesale business and then sold to liquor stores or if you go to a vineyard and buy the estate’s wine. Unfortunately, the quality of Kentucky wine is still so far behind the quality of Californian and Oregon wines.

But it is not just Kentucky that has these archaic laws still in tact. Slightly more than half, 29 states, allow direct shipping of alcohol, albeit with limitations. But in most cases those limitations are mostly acceptable to consumers. Definitely to me who can only maintain a small collection. Five states allow reciprocity sales. (See map.) Even liberal states like New York and Florida have only as recent as 2005 and 2006 respectively, allowed for direct sales of alcohol, but at least, their legislators saw the light…coming through the bottom of a bottle. I guess!

Commerce laws regarding alcohol sales, any form, is a mess in the US. It is controlled by the states and not by the federal government. Here in Kentucky there is no single law that controls alcohol sales. There are some laws that serve as guidelines. It seems every city or county can make its own laws because the current laws from city to city and county to county can vary vastly. Then off course, many of Kentucky’s 120 counties ban any form of alcohol sales outright. The dry counties.

Excuses for not allowing sales ranges from: It must be properly labeled to protect consumers against fraud, to protecting wineries inside a state, protecting minors from not laying their hands on alcohol, and the inevitable taxman that complains about a lost of taxes. All valid points, but bla, bla, bla. Twenty nine other states have done it. These issues have been resolved. Learn from them, adopt their laws. I think the biggest culprits are wholesales and the politicians. Wholesalers are scared, that they will lose a portion of their monopoly income. They will have to lower their prices to complete with the Internet. Get with the program! Business environments change all the time. Why should they not adjust too? And politicians, well it will take a legislature will balls to tackle the issue here in Kentucky to see it from the point of view of the consumer (the voter). And that’s the problem. Balls. Or the lack there of. If the law allows me to buy wine from a liquor store at a high price, why can’t it allow me to buy it over the Internet for a lower price? Apart from the benefit of lower prices to the consumer, it can actually do the in-state wineries a lot of good because they will get sales from other states and not just from people who happens to visit the winery. (Kentucky laws allow for out-of-state shipment if the wine was purchased during a visit to the winery.) And the taxman, he will probably get more income too. Excise tax and sales tax are still applicable. That looks like a win-win-win situation to me.

So I will stay a frustrated oenophile with an overpriced and mostly empty collection. But I can continue to hope…

Picture courtesy of Northern Kentucky Vintners & Grape Growers Association at

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