Lawsuit uncorks uncertainty for Missouri wine shipping laws

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COLUMBIA - A pending court case could make it easier for Missourians to purchase a case of wine online.

The lawsuit involves Magnum Wine and Tastings, a Florida-based wine retailer. Store owner Heath Cordes filed the suit to challenge Missouri’s retailer-to-consumer wine shipping laws.

According to state statutes, Missouri wine retailers can sell and deliver up to two cases of wine per month to an individual customer for his or her personal use. But Missouri customers can only purchase wine from out-of-state retailers that operate in states that “reciprocate” by allowing Missouri retailers to ship directly to their consumers.

Florida is not a reciprocal state, but Cordes' attorney, Robert Epstein, said it shouldn’t matter.

“There is Supreme Court dicta that would seem to say that reciprocity is not appropriate and could violate constitutional principles,” Epstein said.

He's referring to a 2005 Supreme Court decision that prevents states from imposing bans on the direct shipping of wine by out-of-state wineries if they authorize direct shipments from in-state producers. However, the ruling applies only to direct-to-consumer shipments by wineries — not specialty retailers, wine stores or distributors like Magnum Wine and Tastings.

Epstein said he thinks the precedent could lead to a more free-flowing wine trade for out-of-state retailers.

Magnum Wine and Tastings acquires and sells some unique vintages, private-labels and exclusive wines that can’t be found in Missouri wine outlets. Epstein said allowing direct shipping privileges from all out-of-state retailers would expand the freedom of choice for Missouri wine connoisseurs.

Missouri has a robust wine industry. In 2013, Missouri wine and grape businesses generated $1.76 billion in economic impact for the state.

Some local wineries like Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport market their wine online, shipping their products directly to consumers across the country.

Cory Bomgaars, a member of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board and vice president of operations for Les Bourgeois Vineyards, said wineries have more freedom than retailers to ship wine to consumers across state lines, but the process is still complicated.

“Every state has its own regulations,” Bomgaars said. “Every state has its own tax code. Every state has its own limit on the number of cases you can ship to consumers.”

Depending on the outcome of the new lawsuit, Missouri may have to adapt its wine shipping laws to accommodate more out-of-state retailers.