Casualty of Capitalism

Exiled into Wilmington, Delaware by virtue of corporate layoffs. (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this blog are Copyright 2005, Michael Collins, and cannot be used without permission.)

Location: Wilmington, Delaware, United States

Graduate of University of Maryland School of Law; University of Maryland, College Park (Economics/Political Science).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A Whine About Wine

Maybe it's because I read too many books about American history. Maybe it's because I am a small government conservative. Maybe I have an unhealthy desire to drink alcohol (um...not true). But darned if I'm not steamed about the outcome of the Supreme Court's "wine" decision from yesterday!

But alcohol lovers should be enthused, you say.

First, read about the case here. A nice summary by wine aficionado, Prof. Bainbridge, of the finer legal points.

OK. Now you have some background. So why am I angry? Because I live in the USSR, apparently. The first thing I noticed about the decision (proof that my law school training works) is that it affects only states meeting two conditions. The first, obviously, that the home state bans direct interstate shipment of wine from out-of-state vinters into the home state. The second is the clincher though: the home state must also allow intrastate wine shipments from local vinters. #1 is only relevant if #2 is also present. The warning bells went off. Betcha my state doesn't allow intrastate shipment of wine, making this decision on interstate shipment moot, I thought.

Guess what?

Because Delaware does not discriminate between out-of-state and in-state wineries, the Supreme Court's ruling would not force legislators to change the law.

Delaware has one winery, Nassau Valley Vineyards & Winery in Lewes. Co-owner Bob Raley said he would like to see Delaware change its laws.

"We have lots of people who have been here on vacation and want wine sent to them wherever they live, and, legally, most of the places we can't send it to," Raley said.

Nassau Valley winery has a six-acre vineyard and sells about 30,000 bottles of wine a year. About 98 percent of its customers go there to buy wine.

"It's not possible to sell it to out-of-state people legally, but I can sell it your cousin and he can mail it to you," Raley said.

Some Delaware consumers are unhappy with state laws that prohibit them from receiving shipments of wine, both from outside the state or in the state.

"If there is a particular wine that I would really want to try, I don't want the government interceding to either protect their tax base or my morality," said Ted Horst-mann, a professed wine lover from Wilmington.

Of course! The other thing that struck me upon researching this last night is that there is only one winery in the entire state of Delaware! And according their website, they had to change Delaware law just to get approval to make wine! Excuse me, but what exactly did our Founding Fathers fight for in 1776? Freedom from government encroachment, I thought. Certainly this is not freedom in the Revolutionary sense.

The future wife and I were hoping this decision would come down before we went on our honeymoon to Napa next month. We have no recourse, however. I can't even have wine shipped to my parents in Maryland.

Maryland also does not discriminate between out-of-state and in-state wineries. Neither type can ship directly to consumers; they must go through wholesalers.

"There is no discriminatory practice in Maryland, therefore, we don't think the ruling applies to us," said Michael Golden, deputy director of the Comptroller of Maryland.

I was probably least surprised by this, particularly knowing what I know about Montgomery "no smoking in restaurants, no smoking on public street corners" County where they live. Nearby Takoma Park even tried to ban smoking in private homes! I don't even like smoking and that idea...ahem...burned me up.

It all comes down to the usual suspects. In Maryland, and elsewhere, it's about tax receipts and the state/country control of liquor distribution (big, state-controlled bucks). Read here, for more on Montgomery County, MD:

Probably the most egregious government encroachment on America's drinking habits is the controlled state. In 18 states, plus Montgomery County, Md., sales of wine and spirits are controlled by a state-run monopoly.

Most egregious? Montgomery County? No! I don't know what Delaware's motivations are for basically banning wine production, but distribution is explained by the state's control of it. More $$$ for the government's coffers.

Just take a second to think about this situation. When it really gets down to it, is it right for any government to ban the production of a widely accepted consumer good? Is it right for the government to decide what means, if any, are available for the distribution of a widely accepted consumer good, outside of absolute government control?

Even humoring the idea that governments impose these restrictions to protect minors (not tax receipts from sales or local businesses (i.e. read local business taxes)), there have to be methods of limiting distribution that do not engender outright bans on what would otherwise be acceptable means of commerce. Distribution licenses and rigorous ID verification come to mind.

I expect little to improve in either Delaware or Maryland on this score, given that both states are solidly Democratic and the citizens, by virtue of their continued voting for low-grade socialists who pass laws like this, seem to like entrenched, out-of-touch politicians telling them what's good for them.

I was hoping to enjoy a reprieve from the iron fist of political control by leaving Mayor Daley's Chicago. Here we go again, unfortunately.


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