Direct-to-Consumer Restrictions in Peril at SCOTUS

By Robert Whitley

July 16, 2019 6 min read

Wineries scored a huge victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 when the court ruled that state laws that banned direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipments of wine were unconstitutional if the same law allowed DTC shipments by in-state wineries.

The decision was a boon to wineries eager to avoid the so-called "three-tier" system and sell and ship directly to wine consumers, thereby cutting out the middlemen and increasing profits. Small wineries that lacked clout with large distributors benefited most. Since the ruling, many states have altered their laws to permit out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers, and currently, 44 states allow consumers to accept out-of-state winery shipments.

Now similar bans on retail DTC shipping are in the crosshairs. In January, the court heard arguments in a Tennessee case, Byrd vs. Wine & Retailers, and the justices seemed to take a keen interest in the DTC issue as it concerns retailers. A decision is expected any day.

A favorable ruling would pave the way for retailers from the two coasts to, with greater selection and better prices, compete in what have been restricted drinks markets. Currently, only 14 states permit wine and spirits retailers from outside the state to sell directly to consumers.

The greatest benefits to consumers, particularly those living in rural areas or in the center of the country away from large metropolitan areas, will be improved selection. Iconic wines produced in small quantities, for example, are now almost impossible to find in midsize cities in the South and Midwest.

If SCOTUS topples the remaining barriers to direct-to-consumer sales, anyone anywhere in the United States with a smartphone and an internet connection will be able to find and purchase even the most obscure wines and spirits as though they were shopping in New York or San Francisco.

The increased competition brought by out-of-state retailers should lower prices as well.

Best Value

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Valentin Bianchi 2018 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.99) — Fire up the grill, and serve this spicy beauty with barbecued steaks, chops and brats. Rich and ripe, it exhibits notes of blackberry and anise, supple tannins and a long, impressive finish. Rating: 88.

Tasting Notes

Duckhorn 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Patzimaro Vineyard, Napa Valley ($98) — This vintage from the Patzimaro Vineyard produced a stunning cabernet with impressive depth; complex layers of cassis, red currant and blackberry fruit; and hints of oak vanillin and clove. Firm tannins suggest it will improve with 10 years or more in a temperature-controlled cellar. Rating: 97.

Eberle 2018 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard, Paso Robles ($26) — Proprietor Gary Eberle introduced viognier to Paso Robles, and his success helped the Paso Robles AVA establish a solid reputation for the grape varieties of France's Rhone Valley. Eberle's Mill Road viognier is one of the finest in the district, and the 2018 is one of the finest yet produced by Eberle. Winemaker Chris Eberle (no relation) has crafted a remarkably well-balanced wine that preserves its freshness with mouthwatering acidity without sacrificing the stone fruit and honeysuckle aromas and flavors that make viognier so attractive when not overdone. Rating: 95.

Duckhorn 2017 Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($36) — Say the name Duckhorn and red wine, either merlot or cabernet, comes to mind. But it would be a mistake to dismiss the Duckhorn chardonnay because it's made it a style that is growing in popularity with California winemakers. The 2017 combines freshness and elegance with rich, ripe fruit that benefits from restraint. The wine shows nuances of lemon oil, pear and ripe apple with an array of baking spices. It is superbly balanced and exhibits impressive length. At this price, it's a steal. Rating: 94.

ROAR 2017 Pinot Noir, Garys' Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands ($62) — The Garys' Vineyard pinot from ROAR is typically ripe and more richly layered than its rivals, and the 2017 is no different. This vintage offers a floral and spice nose, with loads of upfront cherry fruit and well-resolved, supple tannins for enjoyable consumption, even at this early stage. Rating: 94.

Emeritus 2015 Pinot Noir, Hallberg Ranch, Russian River Valley ($44) — Fruit purity is what comes to mind when tasting this latest pinot noir from the Hallberg Ranch. It shows pure, sweet black cherry fruit on the palate, supple tannins and a long finish with a touch of wood spice. This is a superb pinot noir to drink now. Rating: 93.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at Email Robert at [email protected]

Photo credit: Sadival at Pixabay

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