June 1, 2000

Georgia Enacts Direct Ship Legislation For Wine, Considers Other Delivery Options

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Robert S. Highsmith Jr.

Under increasing pressure from consumers and the media, the Georgia Legislature passed House Bill 1273 during the 2000 session authorizing the direct shipment of wine to consumers under certain restricted circumstances.  The bill had the support of all three tiers of the wine industry in Georgia.  In fact, the lobbyists working on the bill ensured that it was engrossed in the House before consideration, a relatively rare procedural step that rendered the bill immune to amendments, either in committee or on the floor of the Legislature.

The new law permits direct shipment by a winery holding a federal basic wine manufacturing permit under two conditions.  First, consumers who visit a winery either within or outside the state may now have the winery ship their purchases directly to them, provided that the winery properly verifies the age of the purchaser and that the purchase takes place on the physical premises of the winery.  The law limits winery shipments under this provision to a total of five cases per shipment address or consumer, regardless of brand.

Second, and somewhat more controversially, a winery holding a federal basic wine manufacturing permit may now ship up to 50 cases of wine—of one brand or a combination of brands—to lawful consumers within Georgia, without designating a wholesaler as the law would normally require.  A winery may not ship more than five cases to any one consumer or address.  Wineries may not ship under the new law to wholesale or retail licensees.  Finally, the winery must require that the person ordering the wine “state affirmatively” that he or she is 21 years of age or older, every shipment must be “clearly marked ‘Alcoholic Beverages, Adult Signature Required,’ ” and the carrier delivering such shipment must obtain the signature of an adult as a condition of delivery.

The legislation appears to restrict wineries from shipping any brand that has been registered with the Commissioner of Revenue and for which a wholesaler has been designated.  This restriction would limit dramatically the number of brands that may be directly shipped.  When asked about such restrictions during the bill’s hearing in the House Regulated Beverages Committee, Representative Kathy Ashe (R-Atlanta), one of the bill’s sponsors, stated that if a winery wishes to sell more than 50 cases of its product in Georgia, it should come into the state’s system and designate an appropriate wholesaler.  As to brands already designated, Representative Ashe suggested that such brands already are available from Georgia retailer, and that House Bill 1273 was designed only to make brands available to Georgia consumers that are not already available in traditional retail outlets. 

Wineries seeking to ship to consumers under the new law must apply for and obtain a “special order shipping license” from the Georgia Revenue Commissioner. If the Commissioner revokes any such license because of an underage sale, the offending licensee is barred from applying for any alcohol beverage license in Georgia for a period of five years. 

House Bill 1273 opens up an important new avenue for wineries to sell to Georgia consumers under certain limited circumstances.  Governor Barnes signed the bill on May 1, 2000; it becomes effective July 1, 2000. 

Another bill, Senate Bill 434, would have permitted Georgia-based retail Internet grocers to deliver beer and wine under certain circumstances.  Although this bill received a favorable “Do Pass” report from committee and was placed on the Senate calendar by the Rules Committee, the full Senate did not take action on the bill this year.  Proponents expect the initiative to resurface in the next session of the Georgia Legislature.

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