State of Washington is shooting itself in the foot!

By John ~ May 12th, 2008.

Protectionism was one of the main causes of the Great Depression, yet we seem to have to relearn that lesson over and over again in both national and state politics. Here in the state of Washington, our legislators once again this year failed to listen to the lessons of history and pass a bill (SB6384) to allow wine to be shipped freely from retailers to consumers in the state of Washington.

Instead they listened to the protectionist rhetoric of the large wineries and distributors and lapped up the money that their lobbyists so generously provide. When are our legislators going to think for themselves and do what is right for the consumers of Washington State? After all, this is a democracy. When we let the free enterprise system work without artificial restraints such as these, it functions best. Artificial barriers only seem to work in the short run, but they will kill those they are designed to protect in the long run, our Washington wineries and distributors.

I have been a big fan of Washington wines for many years, and we have touted them energetically wherever we go in our wine travels and on this blog. But I am embarrassed by the recent actions of our Washington Liquor Control Board which I understand has been writing threatening letters to retailers around the country demanding that they cease shipments to Washington wine buyers. I realize that the board is only trying to enforce the law, but do they, our legislature, and our Washington wineries and distributors not understand that life is a two-way street? We need retailers around the country touting Washington wines. Do you think these threats help the image of the Washington wine industry around the country and get wine retailers excited about promoting our wines? Of course not! And if we continue our protectionist rules, the Chateau Ste Michelle/Columbia Crest group, for example, may find itself not being able to sell in other states someday.

The straw that broke the camels back for me personally was when I could not find an Australian wine that I like in local Seattle area stores as I have in the past and went online to see where I might find it. When I found it at an online retailer I had purchased through before and placed an order, the order was rejected by the retailer saying that they could no longer ship to a customer in Washington State. I guess they must have received the infamous letter. That is nuts!

The State of Washington has a law that benefits in-state wineries, distributors, and retailers to the disadvantage of out-of-state competitors. In addition to being shortsighted, as I have said above, this kind of law should also run afoul of what constitutional lawyers call the “dormant Commerce Clause.”

In “dormant Commerce Clause” cases, the Supreme Court has held that the federal Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which authorizes Congress to regulate commerce “among the several states,” is more than a grant of power. Rather, according to the Court, the Clause also contains an implicit prohibition, insofar as the Clause reflects America’s intent to be an integrated and unbalkanized economic whole generally free from parochial tariffs and other barriers to trade that states might erect to try to protect their local industries from out-of-state competition. Thus, according to Court doctrine, if state laws that discriminate against out-of-state firms are ever to be upheld, it must be because of Congressional permission or some other unusual and compelling circumstance.

In simple English, if this is truly the United States of America, we need to eliminate these protectionist state laws, which are probably illegal and without question not of long-term economic benefit to the individual states, and instead, have laws that let me, you, and all other consumers buy whatever wine we want to buy, wherever we can find it, from whomever we want to buy it, whether in-state or out-of-state.

So what do you and other Washington wine consumers do in the meantime? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Write your state legislator explaining your displeasure.
  2. Write the big wineries and distributors explaining your displeasure and how this law may backfire on them in the future.
  3. Buy one less bottle of Washington wine for every bottle you are denied buying elsewhere and notify the Washington winery that loses your business.

Have you had similar problems having wine shipped to you in Washington State from out-of-state retailers? Does this protectionist law upset you as much as it upsets me? Please share your story. We would love to hear if you have some better ideas on how we can restore the democratic process in Washington State on wine sales.

Filed under: General Wine Information

Reader's Comments

  1. Catie | May 13th, 2008 at 10:12 am

    …and since I am now a new, but small Washington wine retailer I am rather embarrassed when I try to get into other states in our United States of America, home of the free…

    Why should other states allow me in, when we are not extending the same courtesy? These laws are horrible and something for the Washington State Wine Commission to consider – – the second largest wine producer in the US and there are still many wine consumers on the East Coast that do not have a clue about Washington wines and how can they with these kind of barriers?

    Thanks for speaking up.