Doug Nalle makes some of the best zinfandel in California. There’s just one catch. It’s difficult to buy outside of California, what with his limited production of just 1,500 cases a year, and the restrictions of the three-tier distribution system.
So what’s a wine buyer to do?
The answer is to order directly from the winery, an option that is gaining in popularity not only in Texas (where the Wine Curmudgeon lives), but across the country. A 2005 Supreme Court decision struck down many state laws that prohibited interstate shipment, while Texas liberalized its direct shipping laws – for both intra- and inter-state orders – several years ago. Texas wineries, for example, can ship to dry parts of the state.
This makes it much easier to get cult wines from California, limited-release and small winery wines from places like New York or Missouri, and even mainstream winery club offerings without leaving the house, something that was legally impossible earlier this decade.
In addition, many state laws, including Texas’, restrict direct shipping from out-of-state and on-line retailers. Which means that anyone who orders the Nalle zinfandel from a California liquor store could be committing a crime.
Which also means, that as much of a boon as direct shipping has been to the wine industry and to consumers, there remain some caveats:
• Can the winery ship to or within your state? Does it want to? In Texas, for example, out-of-state wineries need shipping and sales tax permits to ship to consumers here (though in-state wineries don’t). Not every small winery will go through that process just to sell a couple of cases of wine a year. Most wineries list the states they’ll ship to on their web site or if you call. Again, if an out-of-state winery ships to you and hasn't satisfied all of your state's requirements, you’re technically breaking the law.
• Understand the costs and restrictions. Shipping is expensive, and can add 40 percent to the cost of a bottle. Nalle charges $14-$18 for a three-bottle minimum, while Texas’ Haak Vineyards & Winery charges about $6 a bottle for one to three bottles. These charges are usually discounted if you buy more a case or two, but the days of free shipping are almost all gone. Also, many state laws limit the amount of wine you can receive, such as about one case every 30 days.
• Make sure someone can sign for it. This is not just about satisfying the legal requirement that someone older than 21 receives the wine; it also takes into account the weather. Shippers like UPS and FedEx aren’t supposed to leave wine without an adult signature, which means your $200 bottle of Harlan Estate cabernet blend could be riding around in the back of a truck for a couple of days, being baked beyond recognition. If there’s no one home during the day, consider an alternative delivery site, like the office.