Like the 1950′s milkman who would bring your fresh milk in glass bottles and pick up your empties, wine on tap has the potential to fill the same classic role. Bring your reusable carafe to a wine on tap market, get a refill, and walk away with your dinner wine—foregoing the packaging cost and getting a little extra decanting perk as you make your way home. A sustainable, local, and idyllic model that connects us a little closer to “slow food” and a little farther from mass consumerism, right? Unfortunately, wrong. It’s generally illegal.
That is why bar owners like Joe Barbera of AIDA Bistro and Wine Bar in Columbia, Maryland are pushing legislation to break through the bureaucratic red tape of alcohol distribution laws to allow for new approaches to wine sales. Barbera is lobbying for a law to be passed in Howard County to allow for wine on tap to be taken “to go.”
Most state laws prohibit the sale of reusable carafes or containers because it resembles bottling an alcoholic beverage, which requires a special license. This law, along with a plethora of other liquor laws, is preventing the wine industry from thriving to its potential. While many of the liquor laws are in place to prevent unsafe or underage drinking, the argument stands that majority of liquor laws today are archaic and still aligned with the Prohibition era.
Selling wine online is one such example. When the power of the Internet couldn’t be stronger, most e-wine retailers fail because of highly regulated laws and taxes, requiring permits in each and every state where wine is shipped. Another is the three-tiered alcohol distribution requirement where producers must go through a distributor before the wine hits the retail market. “Bottleneck” is an understatement when describing this system and what it is doing to wine producers’ revenue streams.
Some successes have been had, though, and wine is winning most especially when it comes to direct shipping. Many states have passed legislation to overtun the three-tiered distribution stream and allow wineries to ship directly from their winery to the consumer. (Wine clubs, anyone?) Lawmakers are starting to clearly understand how vital direct sales are to wineries and the community network surrounding them. Retailers, on the other hand, are still in a tough spot.
We hope one day wine can be as freely traded as it deserves. Joe Barbera and sites like “Free the Grapes,” a site dedicated to breaking down wine sales restrictions, are guiding forces in the David and Goliath battle. You can learn more about Joe Barbera’s efforts in Howard County in the Baltimore Sun’s recent article.
Until then, fight on, Mr. Barbera. We’ll be the first to sign your petition and stand in line to take home the very first carafe of wine on tap to go.