Shipping Laws FAQs

Wine Institute is a public policy advocacy association representing the interests of our California winery members. We DO NOT encourage our members to violate state distribution laws, BUT we have a sincere interest in effecting change (by lawful means) that would permit the direct shipment to consumers from wineries of limited quantities of wine. Please click here to read Model Legislation for direct shipping. We’ve launched this web site for the purpose of educating our members.

Open-Permit: States that have passed legislation allowing wineries to ship to consumers provided the winery complies with any licensing and reporting requirements. Most typically these bills follow the Wine Industry Model Direct Shipping Bill. The common provisions of these laws are:

  • Obtaining a license or permit prior to shipping
  • Collection and payment of excise and/or sales taxes to the recipient state
  • Limits on the quantities of the shipments
  • Packaging requirements to ensure wine is not delivered to underage individuals
  • Reporting of shipments to the state authorities

Open-Limited: States that have a statutory provision that allows for some form of limited direct shipment of wine to consumers, but does not require the winery to hold a permit .  The Federal on-site states aren’t included here since the state laws still show them as prohibited. 

Prohibited: States that do not allow for any legal form of the direct shipment of wine to consumers.

Since the repeal of Prohibition each state has created its own system of alcohol regulations. These various systems have been influenced by local business interests and regional political attitudes. As a result, the laws governing direct shipment vary widely- ranging from quite open and simple to states that consider wine shipments a felony. If you’re interested in communicating with your state legislature on any of the issues raised here, we urge you to do so through the Free The Grapes ! Wine Institute does much more than provide legal information, but for this site, the usual cautions apply: laws and regulations are subject to broad interpretation .

This site does not contain and is not intended to deliver legal advice . If you need to contact an attorney who specializes in alcoholic beverage law, we have compiled a listing of our associate members who may be able to assist you . In any event, whether you use these attorneys or someone else, it’s always a good idea to seek out professional legal advice.

In an opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court ruled that restricting the ability of out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers violates the U.S. Constitution dormant Commerce Clause in light of Section 2 of the 21 st amendment. “States have a broad power to regulate liquor,” he wrote. “This power, however, does not allow States to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment of out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers. If a state chooses to allow direct shipment of wine, it must do so on evenhanded terms. Without demonstrating the need for discrimination, New York and Michigan have enacted regulations that disadvantage out-of-state wine producers. Under our Commerce Clause jurisprudence, these regulations cannot stand.” States must extend equal privileges to in-state and out-of-state wineries.

Off-Site is a shipment made on behalf of a consumer who places the order via phone, fax, or internet. On-Site refers to shipments made on behalf of a customer who is placing the order while visiting the winery’s tasting room.

In November of 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, which included a provision allowing wine, purchased while visiting a winery, to be shipped to another state. Purchases must be in accordance with state law in that the consumer could have legally carried the same amount of wine back on their person as the winery is now able to ship to the consumer. This does not allow the consumer to join a wine club or to make a purchase to be shipped at a later date.

A special shipping label marks a package as Adult Signature Required. Labels can be obtained from your common carrier.

No, it is never legal for an individual to ship wine. The US Postal services will not carry alcohol under any circumstances.  Both FedEx and UPS have company policies that strictly prohibit accepting alcohol shipments from individuals for delivery.  These rules are based on their requirement that only entities who have signed a “wine shippers agreement”, which has special provisions regarding liability and packaging requirements as well as reporting components for deliveries into the other states.  These agreements are only available to licensed alcohol retailers and wineries themselves.  A primary reason for this is also the special handling and adult signature requirements that are required for alcohol deliveries.  The goal is to avoid any possibility of a package being delivered into the hands of a minor.  Packages shipped under the wine agreements have to meet rigorous labeling standards, and cannot be handled in the normal default manner of other packages (i.e. adult signature (over 21 years of age) is required for delivery, there can be no signature waiver, and packages cannot be left even with a consumer signature request – the delivery must be made in person so ID can be checked.)  Most states do NOT allow shipments from individuals to enter their state – regardless of these rules though, the carriers do not make such shipments.

Reciprocity is a legislative concept whereby each state is approached to enter into an agreement of terms for shipping wine to consumers. Reciprocity requires the legislative cooperation of other states to recognize a two-way shipment privilege. In its simplest form, a reciprocal law says “a winery in your state can ship to a consumer in my state, only if a winery in my state can ship to a consumer in your state.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that reciprocity is a violation of interstate commerce law – This is why states with reciprocal shipping laws transitioned to limited direct/ permit status. As of July 1, 2011 there are no longer any states in the reciprocal category.

The best practice for consumer age verification for online sales is to utilize an age verification service that will verify the legal drinking age of online purchasers of wine at the point of purchase for all transactions, even if a particular state law does not require it. Employing a third-party age verification service provides added assurance that online buyers are age 21 or older.

Many states do require direct wine shipper licensees to use an age verification service prior to the completion of the transaction by statute, including Kansas and Michigan which specifically require licensees to use a state-approved online age verification service provider.