When it comes to legislation pending in Congress aimed at ensuring beer, wine and liquor continue to be regulated at the state level, some would have you believe it would kill a state's ability to allow direct-to consumer shipments from your... or my... favorite winery -- it won't.
First, a little background is in order. America's 3,300 beer distributors (whom I represent) and the 3,500 wine and spirits distributors are all part of the state-based system of alcohol safeguards. We help promote localized control, strong community protections and near unlimited consumer choice. Every time you see a beer truck outside a local store, or a guy rolling a hand-cart stacked with cases of beer into your favorite bar -- that's us.
Distributors bring you the 50,000 wine labels and 13,000 beer labels available in the U.S. No other consumer product in America has as much choice. Just take a walk down the beer and wine aisle of your local retailer and check out the variety. You won't find this choice for any other beverage or food product. In countries, like the United Kingdom and Mexico, where alcohol is essentially deregulated, consumers have far less choice and variety.
You can also feel confident that you are going to have a quality experience when you choose to sample that variety. Beer and wine distributors provide refrigerated storage and temperature-controlled transportation from the winery, brewer or importer to your neighborhood restaurant, bar, wine store or convenience shop.
All this in an environment of strong, commonsense, state-based regulations governing distribution and sales which recognizes that alcohol is different from other consumer products (in fact it is a distributor that gets the notice from law enforcement to not resupply any licensed alcohol provider who breaks the rules... like selling to minors).
One more thing. Ever read those horrible headlines from elsewhere in the world where scores of people were poisoned with counterfeit or tainted alcohol? A full 60% of alcohol sold in Chinese cites is fake and, sadly, 40,000 Russian deaths each year are attributable to counterfeit alcohol -- yes, 40,000. You don't see that here in the U.S. The American system of state-based alcohol regulation works to prevent tainted alcohol from infiltrating the U.S. system. Should a quality or counterfeit concern arise for a given product in the U.S., it can be quickly tracked, recalled and pulled from shelves with minimum public exposure.
During the recent concerns over the safety of caffeinated alcohol beverages, the system made it possible for states to act and the identified product to be quickly pulled from shelves. This structure provides checks and balances among all licensed alcohol producers, distributors and retailers, making it easy to identify bad actors or companies trying to circumvent the system. The same cannot be said of alcohol that is sold outside of a strong regulatory system with localized controls.
All of which brings us to the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2011. This bipartisan legislation clarifies that states -- not federal courts -- continue to have the authority to make their own alcohol-related decisions as rooted in the 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (If you know your history, you know this amendment ended Prohibition and decreed that states get to regulate alcohol within their respective borders.) A handful of folks don't like that and have brought more than 27 lawsuits in hopes of weakening the states' ability to regulate alcohol through the federal courts. It is their use of the courts in attempt to pad their pockets at the expense of responsible regulation that the CARE Act would address. In short, this legislation is about who should make decisions regarding alcohol regulation, not what those decisions should be.
The CARE Act would not end direct shipping of alcohol anywhere. It would actually protect a state's ability to allow direct-to-consumer shipments for alcohol producers. In fact, nearly 40 states -- including my home state of Virginia where, yes, I have had wine direct shipped legally from a winery to my home -- allow some form of direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments. The CARE Act would not impact a single one of those laws -- or any future state laws.
America's beer, wine and spirits distributors are proud to play a vital role in this uniquely American system. These family-owned businesses are active in their communities and are held accountable locally. The CARE Act of 2011 will preserve a state's right to decide how, where, when and to whom alcohol is sold; it will ensure continued access to unprecedented choice, variety, quality and product purity; and it won't do a thing to hinder your state's ability to allow wine shipments. Now that's something we can all toast.