Wine Decision's Aftertaste

By Robert MacMillan Staff Writer
Thursday, June 2, 2005 9:20 AM

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month in favor of interstate wine shipments is enjoying a nice, long finish as newspapers across the country dissect it for how it will affect local readers.

The story once was mise en bouteille almost exclusively by the technology press, especially when dot-com entrepreneurs were making millions of dollars every time they discovered one more product they could sell on the Internet. But once a bunch of lawsuits sprang up over the subject, it quickly ripened into a spicy topic.

At issue, as many of you will remember, was whether more than two dozen states could defend laws on their books forbidding out-of-state wineries from shipping their vintages to customers in their home states. Happily for all us oenophiles, the justices trampled all over the states' rights arguments.

It seemed that there was hardly a reporter or editor who could resist topping their stories with references to "popping the cork" and "toasting" the ruling, but the New York Times reported that the wineries' gain could be the distributors' and retailers' loss in a very human way:

"Now that the ruling's likely effect is settling in, distributors and retailers fear that out-of-state wineries may gain an advantage, leading to a loss of sales and jobs in New York. And a few wine producers have expressed concern about potential new costs, like licensing fees and bookkeeping," the Times wrote. "On the plus side, the markets of 49 other states would be open to New York State wines. But on the minus side, the state's vineyards could lose what was effectively a monopoly on direct shipments to the thirsty New York market, whose wine drinkers would be able to simply point and click to buy a sauvignon blanc from Santa Barbara County in California or a pinot gris from Willamette Valley in Oregon, in addition to some of the award-winning Rieslings that they have been ordering up to now from the Finger Lakes in upstate New York."

Gov. George Pataki (R), meanwhile, has submitted a bill to the state legislature to allow direct shipments, but not everybody likes it, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported: "Pataki's bill would limit the amount of wine that can be shipped to individuals to two cases a month and not allow retailers to ship the wine -- steps that Sen. George H. Winner Jr., R-Elmira, doesn't like." Here's a note on the paper's editorial cork board: "What the governor needs to accept is that dropping the ban is supposed to open the market for all takers, not just the wineries but also the retailers. He should not be trying to restrict free enterprise. The same argument holds for whether a customer wants one case of wine in a month or four."

The Leader of Corning, N.Y., says local winemakers argue that "out-of-state customers who sample their wineries on a visit to the Finger Lakes would like the ability to replenish their supply without making a return trip."

Kentucky may not enjoy the distinction of being the nation's No. 2 wine-producing state, but husband-and-wife winemakers Chuck Smith and Mary Berry told the Louisville Courier-Journal that they expect to find some new business thanks to the Supreme Court. Larry Leap, president of the Northern Kentucky Vintners & Grape Growers Association, told the paper he expects to make $80,000 to $90,000 a year more from selling wine across state lines "without even trying."

A short Associated Press dispatch reported on the flipside of the situation across the border in Indiana: "The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission sent a letter May 20 to Indiana's 31 wineries warning them that in-state shipment of wine is a misdemeanor. But some vintners -- like Kathleen Oliver, owner of Bloomington's Oliver Winery -- say they've been shipping in-state for years. She says a lot of wineries are upset by the commission's letter." The state's warning letter leaves us wondering what on earth those bureaucrats have been smoking, er, drinking.

Raisin' Bread

One of the arguments that friends of the wholesalers used against interstate wine shipments was that the Internet could make it easier for teenagers to avoid parental supervision when ordering booze. After all, your spam filter can't ask your kid to fork over ID.

Enter the IDology Group.

An executive at the Tallahassee-based company told the Miami Herald that it has applied for a software patent that checks public databases when customers fill orders on the Internet. "One of IDology's clients, Wine.Com, a San Francisco company that specializes in interstate wine shipments, says the software ... has a remarkable success rate," the Herald reported. "'When we did the test' of IDology software, said [Wine.Com technology chief] Francis Juliano ... 'It was completely accurate with known data and 98 percent accurate with random data.'"

Here's another entrepreneur in the direct shipping business: vintner and former tool-and-die man Richard Naylor of Stewartstown, Pa. When he's not running his winery, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, he "sells corrugated boxes specially designed for shipping wine." Here's more from the Inquirer: "Naylor, a veteran of the packaging industry, started the box business 10 years ago, and its sales surpassed those of his winery two years ago."

It's refreshing to know you've found something at which you excel, but according to third parties, Naylor has thwacked the competition: "'Everybody buys their boxes from Dick Naylor,' said Tom Sharko, president of Alba Vineyard near the Delaware River in Hunterdon County, N.J. United Parcel Service Inc. has tested the performance of Naylor's package, called the Ultimate Wine Cradle. 'Our engineers say that it has an incredible record,' said Susan Rosenberg, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based UPS. Naylor's packaging system has inner units that hold two or three bottles of wine snugly, providing 1.5 inches of protection for the top and bottom of the bottle. The unit adjusts to accommodate thinner, Bordeaux-style bottles as well as the taller bottles used for Riesling and Gewuerztraminer. The inner units then fit into cartons for two to 12 bottles."

USPS : Ur Super-Prime Source of Tobacco

The New York Times had the legalized vice beat covered over the weekend with a story about how the greatest enemy of the state's move to stamp out online cigarette sales is the post office: "The Postal Service, citing concerns about the privacy of the mail and wary of putting postal clerks in the position of deciding which packages to accept and which to reject, is resisting the growing calls that it stop shipping cigarettes. Its stance is exasperating law enforcement officials. 'It is outrageous that the federal government -- through the United States Postal Service -- is knowingly acting as the delivery arm for these criminal enterprises,' New York's attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, said in a statement."

The Postal Inspection Service has cracked down on illegal cigarette shipments, but has been loath to put a stop to legal sales, citing customer privacy.

Your Dossier of Digital Death

Worried that the online wine and smokes might get you before you have a chance to get those last thoughts down on paper? The San Jose Mercury News ran a short item on how to include your digital possessions in your will and how to provide information to loved ones once your operating system decides to shut down. Here is an excerpt, as told to the Merc by tax attorney James Rodriguez and Cyberlaw Center chief Gerald Ferrera: "If you don't want family members to see certain information, pick someone to be a trustee of the digital material with instructions on how the information is to be handled. If you are worried about information stored on personal computers, you can order that the hard drives be erased."


Five people who sold nearly 120 fake tickets to last month's Green Day concert in Manchester, N.H., are apparently a little closer to arrest after police discovered that the doctored tickets contain the perpetrators' names and Ticketmaster account numbers, the Union-Leader reported. "If you have technology to do what you're going to do, you'd think you'd have the wits to remove your own information -- and they didn't," Jason Perry, the arena's director of sales and marketing, told the paper in a story that ran last week.

"The five scammers, living on the West Coast, bought legitimate tickets through and chose the 'ticketFast' technology that delivers the ticket in a PDF format for people to print out on ordinary 8½-by-11 inch paper," the paper said. "The scammers changed the seat locations, from less appealing upper-bowl sections to more desirable general admission tickets on the arena floor so 'they could get a higher ticket value,' Perry said."

Now let's be reasonable here. You can order a bottle of wine for a lot less money and get twice more kick than you would from the best Green Day song.

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