Assume you travel to the Napa Valley and buy a few bottles of wine, then drive to Sonoma and get a few more bottles. And then you want to ship the wine home.
Good luck. The U.S. Postal Service at present will not take wine shipments of any sort (though it is thinking of changing that policy), and most common carriers have in-house rules that don't allow them to ship wine, either.
And don't think this is an interstate shipping issue. California residents may not even ship California wine home by those carriers.
You'd think wine buyers would be outraged by this absurd treatment, and from the anger I hear, many are. But rarely does this prompt any lobbying in a state capital to solve such discrimination.
This is a remarkably complicated tale that has cost me many hours of research, only to realize that much of the tale is so arcane that telling the story in full would bore most readers.
In sum, in the six-plus years since a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that changed the way wine may be shipped, states have beeing trying to deal with interstate shipping regulations. Various states have come up with various solutions.
In the midst of all this, two entities were left out of all the solutions: consumers and retailers. Neither has been considered in how wine may be legally shipped. And by being left out of the process, both classes are, de facto, prohibited from shipping wine across state lines.
This hasn't stopped either group from shipping wine, though in many cases it is done so illegally.
Some major retailers have contracts that allow them to use common carriers, but others simply ship wine and hope no one finds out. Some say that huge amounts of wine are being shipped surreptitiously by retailers to consumers around the country in violation of the laws.
As for consumers, many take sealed boxes of wine into UPS and Fedex offices to ship to friends or relatives, and when asked what's in the box, reply "processed fruit" or "olive oil."
Consumers consider this treatment demeaning, but for retailers, it's a vital issue of business. Many retailers have websites from which they sell wine to buyers across the states and the nation.
It is such an important issue that an organization, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association of Sacramento, was formed to fight what it calls "protectionist state laws that prevent consumers from legally obtaining the wines they want."
So far, no one has made this a cause celebre, and most wine buyers who are irate over the issue of being ignored in this area have no champion to take up their cause. So for now, if a wine lover wants to send a few bottles of wine to a sibling or parents, even if the destination address is only a few miles away, someone is likely to throw up a roadblock.
What brought this to mind was an article in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail that reported on a bill that would liberalize Canadian wine-shipping laws. Since the Prohibition era, the law has blocked consumers from shipping wine to themselves from one province to another.
The newspaper applauded the new law, which would wipe out what it called "the outdated 83-year-old law and allow(s) for free flow of wine for personal consumption."