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High Court Allows Interstate Wine Shipments

STEVE INNKEEPER, host:

Today the US Supreme Court has ruled that wine buyers can purchase directly from wineries in other states. This decision strikes a blow against the traditional system for distributing: wineries sell to wholesalers and then retailers. To discuss how this decision will effect wine buying we've called Richard Cartiere. He edits the industry newsletter Wine Market Report.

And, Mr. Cartiere, first off, can you lay out for us which wine companies in which states are effected by this?

Mr. RICHARD CARTIERE (Editor, Wine Market Report): Well, New York is the most important state because they're a very big wine-consuming, you know, populist there. This decision, however, is very narrow because they're only six or seven states that actually allow in-state wineries to ship direct to consumers, but ban out of state wineries from doing so. And this decision simply said, `You can't do that. You cannot discriminate against out-of-state suppliers.' It violates the so-called commerce clause of the constitution.

INSKEEP: So there's a relatively small number of states. For example, the state of New York--they currently allow you to do what? To order from an in-state shipper, but you can't order from an out-of-state shipper? That's what their current law said?

Mr. CARTIERE: That's correct. That's correct.

INSKEEP: And now the rule will be, if I'm a New York wine buyer?

Mr. CARTIERE: The Supreme Court says the legislative system must now decide what to do about this situation. You cannot have a discriminatory law.

INSKEEP: So does this mean--you can't rush out and order your favorite wine on a Web site or do anything like that legally at the moment in some of these states. You're going to have and see how your state legislature responds to this?

Mr. CARTIERE: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Was the wine industry eagerly awaiting news of the Supreme Court decision?

Mr. CARTIERE: You know, the wine industry, I think, had really hyped this sort of decision. They hoped it might be broader and might address, you know, some very broad decisions in ways that alcohol is sold in the United States. So some wineries had started to believe their own rhetoric and, indeed, you know, over time--this is a small first step in the direction of liberalization of wine shipping laws, but in and of itself, as today, this is a relatively narrow decision.

INSKEEP: You mentioned this is a narrow decision. What are the big questions facing the industry which, I know, like many different industries is being reshaped because of retailing online and that sort of thing?

Mr. CARTIERE: Well, the big decision is whether or not wineries eventually can sell directly to consumers in all 50 states. It can do it in various and limited forms in 27 states at the moment and it cannot do it in 23 other states. Some of them are very important, states such as Illinois and New York, where there are very large populations of sophisticated wine consumers. So they're very eager to order wines that they cannot find in their local markets.

INSKEEP: Richard Cartiere is editor of the newsletter Wine Market Report. Thanks very much.

Mr. CARTIERE: Thank you and I hope that helps clarifies the situation.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.