Assume you are a Texas resident with a brother who lives in Massachusetts. He is a wine collector and you'd like to ship him a bottle of his favorite wine for his birthday.
Assume you are a Utah resident who just toured five wineries in Oregon, bought six bottles of wine, and now want to ship them home to yourself.
Existing laws prohibit both activities. Some people believe that such laws violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. They argue, "It's my property. I can do what I want to with it."
But not if it contains alcohol.
These same people believe that literally dozens of other prohibitions regarding alcoholic beverage use and distribution are anti-consumer, even though there is no such problem with products like rubbing alcohol, cough syrup, and many other items that contain alcohol.
Laws governing shipping (and other unrelated laws) that involves alcoholic beverages were dreamed up by lawmakers long ago. These people didn't consult with those most affected by such laws: consumers.
In the 1930s, after Prohibition ended, most legislators still vividly recalled the terrible way the sale of alcoholic beverages had been ill-managed before Prohibition. And they knew how it was mismanaged during Prohibition.
As a result, laws were created that established a three-tier distribution system, creating a mandatory middle tier (wholesalers) that eliminated some of the inequities that had existed before 1919. Among other things, it eliminated the odious "tied house" practices, where a pub was required to purchase alcoholic beverages from a particular supplier.
Even though consumers fund the entire three-tier system with their purchases, all laws were written with no input from consumers. And few of the laws have changed over the decades. Indeed, even when laws regarding the distribution of alcoholic beverages are being discussed today, consumers are never asked for their opinions on how such laws would affect them.
Shipping wine across state lines is one issue that has long been a sticking point for consumers, who have virtually no recourse. This means that our above scenarios of consumers facing nearly insurmountable odds of getting wine across state lines are commonplace.
Without a voice in the process, wine lovers are ignored, which usually means restrictive laws for no real reason other than to benefit a special sector of the wine distribution system — and often at an added cost to consumers.
Tom Wark saw all this years ago, and finally decided to do something about it. The Napa Valley wine blogger and public relations specialist recently launched a nonprofit organization that will give wine lovers a voice.
The American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC) aims to give consumers a unified forum so their voices can be heard on topics vital to them. Since wineries, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants all have representation, shouldn't the wine consumer also have a voice? Wark asked.
"Whenever regulators think about how consumers should have access to wine, they speak with wineries and wholesalers' association, but never consumers — the people who would be directly affected by" rules changes, Wark said.
There are literally dozens of major issues that are of vital interest to consumers, such as wine sales in grocery stores, Sunday sales of wine (so-called Blue Laws), wine pricing and discounting, shipping wine across state lines, buying wine in one state and shipping it home to yourself in another.