Bill would permit direct shipments of wine to residents’ homes

DOVER — Currently, Delawareans hoping to purchase wine that’s not available in the state are probably out of luck.

Unless a consumer can get the wine shipped to a friend or family member in a neighboring state or have the wine illegally delivered to him or her, there’s no recourse for the wine lover.

A new bill would change that.

Under House Bill 165, the state government would allow businesses to send wine directly to Delawareans, with a few caveats.

The legislation would bar vineyards from shipping any wines currently sold in the First State.

It would also require companies hoping to ship wine to pay the state government for a license and would limit shipments to no more than 1,800 nine-liter cases in a year.

Customers would be allowed by state government to order no more than three cases from one seller per year.

The bill is based on legislation filed in each of the prior four General Assemblies. While those measures, from Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Hockessin, all failed to gain support, the main sponsor of House Bill 165 believes things will be different this time around.

The bill is the product of months of discussions with vineyards, liquor stores, restaurants and others, and it contains significant compromises, Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, said.

“We’re pretty much at the point where no one likes the concessions, no one likes the bill, but that, I think, is a good thing,” he said.

The concessions include the limit on how much a customer can order from one vineyard and the restriction on shipping wine obtainable elsewhere in the state.

That doesn’t mean a wine lover hoping to get a wine available only in, say, Rehoboth Beach, would have to drive down there, however. Customers can have it sent to a liquor store nearby and then purchase it.

According to Wine Institute and ShipCompliant, 44 states allow wine shipments, making Delaware decidedly in the minority.

“There are people in Delaware who get it illegally shipped to them in an unmarked case,” Rep. Baumbach said. “We don’t get any excise tax, it can go to a 16-year-old.”

He believes the bill is carefully written in such a way that it can be enforced by the state and benefit residents while not harming Delaware wine sellers.

Why might someone want wine delivery in the first place? The bill obviously appeals to wine aficionados, as well as a person who wants to taste an otherwise unobtainable wine such as one that the individual had on his or her honeymoon in California’s famed Napa Valley.

Delaware government allows wine and beer to be shipped to a Delaware wholesaler, who delivers it to a business. The business then sells it to the individual buyer.

House Bill 165 would simplify the process while striking the beer portion, a decision Rep. Baumbach said he made because few states allow direct shipment of beer and because shipping beer is more expensive and thus less appealing for a consumer.

Wine shipments in states that allow it amount to less than 2 percent of total wine sales, according to Rep. Baumbach.

The measure has bipartisan support and awaits a hearing in the House Administration Committee.

“I wouldn’t bet the vineyard on it, but I really think that the bill is extremely good and that it deserves to pass,” Rep. Baumbach said.

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