Wine lovers looking to have their favorite buttery chardonnay or a special syrah delivered to their front doors are toasting measures passed by the Virginia General Assembly that would allow the direct shipment of wine in and out of the state.
The House of Delegates and Senate have approved companion measures by wide margins that would permit the delivery of up to 24 bottles a month of out-of-state wine; the bills would also allow Virginia vintners to ship directly to consumers in the 13 states with similar provisions. The legislation seeks to overturn state law that requires winemakers and drinkers to deal exclusively with distributors for out-of-state brands.
"I think I'll probably order a couple bottles from Napa," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), sponsor of House Bill 1652, adding that he has his eye on a nice Franciscan Merlot from California. "It'll be nice to call up and say, 'Send me a bottle.' "
The legislation also figures to be a boon for owners of the state's 80 wineries, who say they are looking forward to shipping bottles to some of the 300,000 out-of-state visitors who tour Virginia vineyards each year.
"Very frequently we get these plaintive calls on the phone: 'I really like your vidal blanc. . . . Can you find a way to ship me a case,' " said Lewis Parker, winemaker at Willowcroft Winery in Loudoun County and head of the Virginia Wineries Association. But, Parker lamented, he can't.
Parker said the new law will also open markets to Willowcroft and a couple of other local vintners who have started making a rare white called Traminette. "Right now there's no market for it," he said. "If we build a consumer demand for it nationwide, ultimately it'll flow through distribution systems."
The states that have what are called reciprocal laws are primarily on the West Coast and include the wine-rich states of California, Oregon and Washington. Wine producers in those states would be required to purchase a license to sell to Virginia consumers.
The District allows residents to receive up to a quart of wine a month, while Maryland has some of the strictest regulations in the country. It is a felony to ship wine to consumers in Maryland.
Leesburg resident Joe Mydlinski is the sort of wine enthusiast who can't wait for the Virginia proposal to become law. To get the tasty California syrah that Mydlinski discovered on vacation, he has had two cases a year shipped to a friend in the District who then brings them out to Leesburg. This plan comes after a similar arrangement with a friend in West Virginia went flat.
"It makes it a lot easier for me to get an occasional case of wine or two," Mydlinski said. "If you go on vacation, find a winery and want to buy a case from there, you can do that now."
In April, a federal judge ruled that a Virginia law prohibiting out-of-state wineries from shipping their products to consumers in the commonwealth was unconstitutional because it didn't ban the same shipments for in-state wineries.
The judge set aside his ruling pending an appeal, and legislators said their action is intended to satisfy the court's concerns. The two versions of the measure need to be agreed upon by both houses before the final bill is forwarded to the governor.
A federal judge in New York made a similar ruling in November after Juanita Swedenburg, owner of the Swedenburg Winery in Middleburg, challenged that state's ban on direct shipments. The judge in that case also stayed his ruling pending an appeal. Several legal challenges in other states are also working their way through various courts.
All of which makes Boyce Brannock a happy wine drinker. The Staunton lawyer, who testified before a Senate committee about the proposal, said he relishes getting wines from far-flung vintners because "it allows you to taste a place you've never gone to before."
The way he gets them now is to drive two hours each way to a place he is tired of going to in West Virginia.
"This will open up some worlds to me and hopefully open up some markets to Virginia wineries as well," said the self-described "wine geek."