Utah bill would allow wine to be shipped to your home

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Bottles of wine on display in a state liquor store in Salt Lake City.

If Utah consumers can get everything from wet wipes to watermelon delivered to their home, "Why not wine?” asks Rep. Michael McKell.

The Spanish Fork Republican is sponsoring a bill that would create a wine order and delivery service through the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

HB157 doesn’t allow wineries or wine clubs to ship products directly to a residence — the DABC would serve as the middleman. But it does move Utah’s strict alcohol provision in that direction, wine experts say.

Under the proposal, Utah consumers could order wine from out-of-state producers. They could pick up their shipments at a state-run liquor store of their choice, or — for an additional fee — pay to have the wine delivered to their homes.

[Listen: ‘Utah Booze News’ podcast: Speak up if you want better wine in the liquor store]

The bill doesn’t specify whether the DABC or an outside company — such as UPS or Amazon — would deliver the alcohol. That would have to be worked out.

Restrictions apply, of course. Those placing a wine order would need to provide a valid state ID; show they are at least 21 years old; and pay for the order in full, including delivery.

When the wine is delivered, a signature would be required, the bill states. Minors, intoxicated or interdicted individuals and — in a strangely worded provision — “a known habitual drunkard” would not be allowed to sign for packages.

McKell, a member of the Business and Labor Committee that typically debates alcohol legislation, said he’s unsure how much opposition HB157 might face in the 2020 session, which starts Monday.

But, in an era of Amazon Prime and Uber Eats, it’s worth having the discussion, he said.

“As a state, we need to look for common-sense alcohol policy, and this is a common-sense solution.”

McKell said he was surprised to learn from constituents that Utahns are barred from having wine shipped directly to their homes —— it’s a felony under current state law.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “The vast majority of states allow home delivery of wine.”

HB157 does not greenlight direct-to-consumer shipping. “The department may not deliver wine to a valid address," the bill states, "unless the wine is first delivered to a state store or package agency.”

As the go-between, the DABC would be able to collect the 88% markup mandated on wine and spirits sold in the state.

The liquor agency is reviewing HB157 to determine the cost and logistics of the proposed program, said Terry Wood, DABC spokesman. Typically, the agency "does not comment on pending legislation unless requested to appear before a legislative committee.”

Utah is one of five states — along with Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky and Mississippi — that does not allow direct-to-consumer wine delivery, according to Free the Grapes, a national grassroots organization working to improve consumer choice in wine.

“The 45 states allowing winery-to-consumer shipping," the website states, "cumulatively represent 94% of the total U.S. population.”

While HB157 doesn’t go as far as providing direct-to-consumer shipping, “it does seem to take a tiny step toward that,” said Tyler Rudd, with the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy association.

Rudd, who oversees the institute’s Central States region, said his organization hopes to be part of the HB157 discussion, because it regularly hears from Utah consumers.

“A lot of people are moving to Utah who are used to getting wine shipped directly to their homes,” he said. “The more people that do that, the more they (state lawmakers) will have to pay attention."

He said the fact that Utah controls the sale and distribution of alcohol should not be an excuse to prohibit direct-to-consumer wine sales.

Wineries today, he said, use high-tech ordering systems that allow them to follow the requirements of individual states whether that is verifying ages when ordering or collecting state and local taxes at the time of purchase.

“We do that for Wyoming, New Hampshire and other control states," he said. “We’re not trying to skirt the system.”

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