- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

MANASSAS (AP) — This past holiday season was the first since Virginia enacted a law designed to ease restrictions on shipping wine in and out of the state.

Vintners say the law, which went into effect July 1, has been great for out-of-state wineries and Virginia consumers, who now can have wine from Napa Valley and elsewhere shipped directly to their homes.

But the law has not been the hoped-for boon for Virginia’s small local wineries and stores. Confusion is rampant among the states’ 80 or so vineyards, leaving a potentially lucrative national market for Virginia wines largely untapped.

Gordon W. Murchie, executive director of the Virginia Wineries Association, says the law might have to be amended as early as the coming General Assembly session.

“It did not achieve the original goal set for the legislation,” Mr. Murchie says. “It is more restrictive than anticipated.”

According to Mr. Murchie and others, the law doesn’t address the issue of shipping wine out of the state. It deals only with wine that is shipped into or within Virginia.

Liquor laws vary widely between states. The wine industry is locked in a legal battle between those who want to lessen controls on direct shipping to consumers and the state liquor boards and wholesalers who don’t.

Virginia lawmakers had hoped that along with setting up a license and permit system, the new law would allow the region’s small wineries and retailers to export wines to 13 states with “reciprocal” shipping agreements. Twenty-four states don’t allow direct shipping to consumers. In five, including Maryland, it’s a felony.

Many Virginia vintners assumed that when the law took effect, they immediately could begin shipping to the 13 reciprocal states. But Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) first has had to solicit agreement letters from each of the 13.

California is the only state that has agreed so far. Others have said no, Mr. Murchie said.

Some local wineries have begun shipping to all 13 states anyway. Others ship only to California, while many refuse to ship at all.

“We haven’t had the kind of broad recognition of reciprocity we had hoped for because of the complexity of the laws in every state,” says Lewis Parker, owner of Willowcroft Farm Vineyards and the Virginia Wineries Association’s past president.

His Loudoun County winery is shipping only to California.

Krista Jackson-Foster, co-owner of the small North Mountain Vineyard and Winery, isn’t shipping out of state. But she says she gets several calls a month from out-of-staters intrigued by Virginia wine.

“No one is really fully informed as to what the new law allows us to do,” she says. “We just tell our prospective customers at this point that we do not ship.”

Jan Alten, who owns the Opera House Gourmet store in Old Town Manassas, says she doesn’t think that the new law needs to be changed, but that the state’s liquor board needs to provide wineries with a list of which states are permissible for shipping.

“It’s ludicrous,” she says. “We don’t know what we can and can’t do.”

Shawn Walker, a special agent in charge at the Virginia ABC, says the ABC will keep wine producers informed if more states join California.

“We’re not necessarily waiting,” Mr. Walker says. “We’ve notified other states to make the determination of our new statute. If we heard back from every state, we would communicate that to the industry.”

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