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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Last week I opened this column with a premise we gloss over too often: You sit down to a meal with a bottle of wine on your table. Have you ever pondered how that bottle of wine arrived in your home?

To create a greater level of awareness I presented the channels that wine travels in its journey from the winemaker’s aging room to a distributor’s warehouse to your favorite retailer’s coveted shelf niche.

The role of each linked party in this chain cannot be underestimated. Each plays a key role in mandated laws for controlling wine and liquor sales, wholesale and retail. And many times the lines are blurred. In recent years, each group has pushed the regulatory envelope, with varying repercussions.

The wine and liquor industry, supported by decades of federal and state regulations aimed at maintaining and protecting the public good, seems mired in maintaining a status quo that disappeared two generations ago. While I’m neither a “Wine Party” advocate nor a “Progressive” Wine watchdog, it is difficult to sort through the myriad issues facing the 80-year-old federally mandated three-tier system without forming an opinion on its relevancy.

In 1995, the Supreme Court sought to relieve the bottleneck of federal and state regulations. It mandated that cross-border sales be legal, but left it to the discretion of each state to establish local regulations on cross-border sales practices. Many states chose to open their borders to other states, while others continued their protectionism practices.

Today, many state liquor authorities (SLA) have differing ethos, differing self-interests and differing bureaucratic machines. State laws run across all spectrums of ideology, local political influence and cross-border protectionism.

Let’s compare and contrast the dictates of SLAs in New York and other states.

In New York, wine may only be sold by private wine shop owners who own only one wine shop in the state and not sell any non-liquor beverages or food. In neighboring New Jersey, mega corporations own and manage chains of wine shops. A number of supermarkets comingle wine with a panoply of food products on their shelves. However, in Pennsylvania, all wine and liquor sales are restricted to state-owned and operated stores.

In New York, you can’t purchase wines (or a poured alcoholic drink) before noon on Sundays. In several southern states, you can’t purchase or be served alcohol at all on Sundays.

In New York you can purchase wine from an out-of-state winery and have it shipped to your home or business. This is not legal in a number of other states.

In New York, you can’t purchase wine from an out-of-state retailer and have it shipped to your home. In the last five years a number of out-of-state flash sites (websites selling wines at bargain prices) have been operating in seeming defiance of this law. (Recently, the New York SLA issued a cease and desist order to a New Jersey retailer for shipping wines across state lines. Has a lumbering giant awoken? Stay tuned.)

So how does a behemoth like Amazon offer wines for sale–with doorstep shipping–to so many states, including restrictive New York? Read between the (above) lines. Amazon’s website “offers” wines from wineries, which are the eventual direct sellers. New Yorkers may purchase wine from out-of-state wineries, but not from out-of-state retailers. Dilemma solved for Amazon–at least in those 17 states that permit direct winery-to-consumer sales.

Are consumers so different in New York that we require such polarized and many times picayune regulations? And what of those poor souls under the thumb of more restrictive, intruding SLAs? At times it seems the only parties whose interests are being protected are the denizens of the government food chain, not the consuming public. My solution for trying to understand voluminous, convoluted and sometimes arcane regulations? Shop local. Patronize your neighborhood Mom and Pop store.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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