Wine enthusiasts have read about the great wines of Huber, Butler, Oliver and Turtle Run wineries in Southern Indiana.
But what if you’re reading Grape Sense in Marion or Peru? You just can’t pick up the phone and order some wine to try these great bottles. It’s prohibited by state law. And let’s admit, it’s a long drive.
There is seldom good news in Indiana on direct shipping laws, but there is hope in the ongoing session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Current law, in place since 2006, requires consumers to visit on site and make a face-to-face purchase before they can order online. It hurt Indiana wineries significantly when enacted, and winery owners are excited it could disappear.
Such statutes used to be fairly common across the country but are now disappearing. Indiana Senate Bill 113, introduced by Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, would require customers to provide name, address, phone number and proof of age but remove the onsite restriction.
The good news is the bill earned the approval of the Senate Public Policy Committee, 9-0. But Jim Butler, who often is involved on behalf of Indiana wineries on governance matters, knows there is still a long way to go.
“It’s a great start, but the session is never over until the last hour of the last day; and as you know, adult beverage legislation is always a labyrinth,” said Butler, who owns a winery near Bloomington. “Back in 2006 we lost the shipping rights that we had had for over 30 years and as a result we lost about 90 percent of our shipping business and have never really regained it. This bill will be a great help to our customers as well as us as a business.”
So any Hoosier who supports free commerce should support the bill. You need to encourage those pro-business legislators to support Senate Bill 113.
Besides killing profit, the 2006 change created more bureaucracy for Indiana wineries, which are already burdened with regulations and mounds of paperwork.
Ted Huber, one of the state’s biggest producers and most-visited wineries, said the current system has been a mess.
“Obviously, this type of tracking is cumbersome and complicated,” he said. “It is hard for Huber to track Indiana customers among the other visitors that we have traveling through from other states.
“This process becomes frustrating to our Indiana guests as they often leave our tasting room and forget to sign the affidavit.”
Huber welcomes more than 500,000 annually.
The usual suspects have lined up against the change with tired arguments that have never been proven to have merit. The Indiana Beverage Alliance represents retailers and wholesalers and doesn’t want to lose any business. While that’s understandable, don’t we all support a free marketplace?
“There are lots of pinot noirs on the shelf at Indiana retailers,” said Marc Carmichael on behalf of the Alliance.
Sure there are lots of choices on those shelves. But Indiana wines take up a tiny portion of the inventory of most retail outlets. If you want to drink Indiana wine, shouldn’t you be able to buy it conveniently?
You can bet the underage-drinking crowd will chime in with their hysterics. Such organizations do an important and great job educating young people about alcohol. That argument gets most of us who support direct shipping deregulation the most riled up. There is no documented evidence this has ever happened — anywhere.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for about 20 Midwestern newspapers. Check out his blog at howardhewitt.net.