Understanding the byzantine nature of wine laws in the United States involves thinking not in terms of 50 separate states, but in terms of 50 separate countries. The regulations enacted by each state in the wake of the 21st Amendment’s repeal of Prohibition are so complex, they have given rise to several companies whose revenues run into the tens of millions of dollars, all from helping wine producers stay on the right side of the law.
Decades before they enacted the protectionist and convoluted shipping laws that are the bane of America’s modern existence (except for the wholesalers who profit handsomely from them), most states established a set of laws governing the consumption and sale of alcohol. Some of these so-called ‘blue laws’ forbade the sale of alcohol on Sundays or during certain hours of the day that were objectionable to primarily religious interests.
Other laws, known as ‘tied-house’ laws, were enacted to prevent the competitive price wars among liquor sellers that the temperance movement blamed for overconsumption before Prohibition.
While these laws have sometimes been adjusted and changed with the times, in many states, California included, laws still exist that seem quite preposterous. But on 9 October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed three bills into law that inject just a bit more rationality into state-wide winery regulations.
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Image of a growler from Kivelstadt Cellars by Grace Remeta.