Direct shipping gets closer

A federal court judge threw out Texas’ ban on Internet direct shipping yesterday, which means the state’s wine drinkers are one step closer to buying product from out-of-state retailers.

The ruling said Texas may not prohibit out-of-state wine merchants from shipping to Texas, since the state allows the shipment of wine from in-state Texas wine merchants. In other words, if I can buy wine from a Houston retailer, I should be able to buy it from a New York City-based retailer. The judge cited the 2005 Supreme Court decision that legalized direct shipping from wineries to consumers, even if the latter lived in another state.

This is a big deal. Theoretically, it would allow any consumer in the U.S. to buy wine from any retailer, something that has been illegal since the end of Prohibition. In this respect, subject to minimum age requirements, it would make wine as simple to buy on the Internet as tennis shoes, books or a computer.

The catch, of course, is whether the decision will stand up on appeal. It’s probably too soon to tell. The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision did not address retailers, and an appeals court may consider that sufficient reason for voiding it. My guess is that a federal appeals court will overturn it, which will put the issue back in front of the Supreme Court.

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