Small Retailer Shipping
Let's Talk Shipping
Many of you have asked us to ship to friends and family. And we have sadly had to inform you that the state of shipping affairs is a mess of constitutional, and we mean that literally, proportion.
This is a very brief synopsis of the issues involved from Wine Searcher:
You may be asking how then can the online big boys ship and you, MetroWines, cannot?
We did too. Part of the answer is that some common carriers have looked the other way for Big Boys but returned packages crossing some state lines to small retailers. We wondered why.
Many states, including North Carolina, do not allow retail shipments from out of state retailers. The common carrier says it is your, you the customer, fault. In other words, you the customer bears the criminal responsibility not to order online from an out of state shipper. You bear the burden of knowing this is a crime. You are the guilty party. Beleive it.
The exception, read loophole, to state regulations prohibiting out of state shipments is for wineries and what is called a blender. That is why you can buy from a California winery you visited on your trip to Napa. And it is also how the Big Boy .com-ers and National Wine Clubs manage to ship. They have somehow convinced the federal agency that has jurisdiction over these designaitons that they are in fact blenders or wineries. And this is the loophole through which common carrier as a defendant will crawl. They will argue that, hey, the feds said .com was a winery. Talk to them.
It's a good and probably a winning argument. So it is the definition of "winery" or "blender" that is at stake. In any effort to obtain some guidance and serve our customers, we wrote to US Representative Mark Meadows. The letter:
S. Gina Trippi
Member: District of Columbia Bar and The Florida Bar
4 Club Knoll Road, Asheville, North Carolina 28804
October 22, 2018 BY US Mail, FAX and Email this Date
Mark Meadows, United States Representative
1024 Longworth HOB, Washington, DC 20525
Dear Representative Meadows:
I write to you in your capacity as a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform which supervises Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and as you are my representative. My husband, John Kerr, and I own MetroWines at 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville, a North Carolina LLC.
TTB is charged with issuing a permit to “operate a wine premises” pursuant to 27 CFR. Being permitted as a “winery” allows an online wine retailer to ship across state lines in states where strictly retail shipping is illegal. Said another way, being permitted as a winery is a ticket to ending around state prohibitions that retailers, like MetroWines, must follow. The competitive advantage is enormous.
The problem is that, while TTB does require the submission of documentation, including a blueprint of the premises, to support that the premises is a “winery,” there is no definition of “winery” and no other guidelines to facilitate consistent and fair decisions.
To illustrate the issue, consider that in North Carolina, we have a license to sell wine retail and also to pour wine by the glass. But if more than 50% of our profits come from pouring, then we are a bar and must abide by those regulations.
TTB has no guidance on how many bottles of wine a “winery” must produce. Is ten enough? If the winery buys a few bottles at the grocery and blends with some dried up grapes on the “premises,” is that a winery? If a “winery” has wine made in California and shipped through the “premises” in another state, is that a “wine premises? And if it is found that a “winery” makes most of its profits by shipping wines from actual wineries, should the TTB “winery” permit be revoked? Does TTB track permitted “wineries?”
I have traded emails with TTB staff who merely recite the rather sparse CFR. And I have contacted John Manfreda, TTB Administrator, by certified letter advising him of all correspondence and requesting a response by October 19th. Having received no response, TTB either cannot or will not answer how decisions are made. Without guidelines, the issuance of a TTB permit is arbitrary.
I am inclined to file for an injunction to halt the issuance of permits by TTB to “operate a wine premises” and to freeze “winery” operations already permitted until TTB sets guidelines. This would be chaotic. We are starting with you first.
Please advise when this situation will be resolved.
S. Gina Trippi
Sadly, Representative Meadows did not answer our letter neither did he nor his office even acknowledge receiving the letter. So much for representing small business in North Carolina!
All that said, depending on how the Supreme Court rules, stand by for MetroWine-ery!
If they can do it. We want to do it. We want to be able to say yes to you when you ask us to ship your purchase to your family at the holidays, for your neice's wedding, for your friend's retirment. We will continue this fight for fairness and a level playing field.