Wacky Wine Laws

Cork screw and wine bottle

In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed. It ended Prohibition, the period during which the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal, and essentially gave individual states absolute power to regulate alcoholic beverages within their own borders. This legal architecture, combined with evolving cultural attitudes towards the consumption of alcohol, has resulted in a complex set of alcohol control laws, some of which seem confusing, illogical and even silly. Here are a handful of examples:

No Wine with Your Takeout in New York
In New York, a restaurant with a liquor license permitting it to serve alcohol on premise can deliver beer with a take-out food order, but it is illegal for it to deliver wine or liquor with a take-out food order.

Wine Ice Cream out in the Cold in Louisiana
In Louisiana, wine-infused ice cream is prohibited because, under state law, it is considered an “adulterated food.” Other “adulterated foods,” such as liquor-infused fruitcake and bonbons, can be sold because they have been granted exemptions. In May 2014, a bill to legalize the sale of liquor-infused ice cream could not muster enough votes in the Louisiana House of Representatives to advance to the Louisiana State Senate.

No Label Autographing in California Wineries or Restaurants
In California, it’s illegal for winemakers to sign wine labels at their wineries or restaurants. However, a law that went into effect in January 2013 allows winemakers to sign labels at retailers, provided they adhere to a strict set of restrictions.

Tastings Forbidden in Georgia Liquor Stores
In Georgia, wine tastings in liquor stores are illegal because the opening and consumption of wine, beer and spirits in liquor stores is prohibited by law. However, wine tastings are permitted in all other venues which have on-premise and off-premise liquor licenses, including supermarkets, convenience stores, wineries, restaurants, bars, etc.

Keep “Wine Doggy Bags” in the Trunk in New Jersey
To encourage moderation in the consumption of alcohol, New Jersey permits a diner to re-cork and take home the unfinished portion of a bottle of wine. However, the wine should be kept in the trunk of the diner’s car because the consumption of alcoholic beverages in a car is illegal, although it is permitted in other motor vehicles including buses, taxi cabs and limousines.

US Postal Service Can’t Deliver Alcohol, but UPS and FedEx Can
A 1909 federal law, which reportedly came about as a result of the temperance movement, prohibits the US Post Office from shipping “spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented or other intoxicating liquors of any kind,” but FedEx and United Parcel Service can ship alcohol and have been doing so for years.

In New York, No Food Allowed in Wine Gift Baskets
If you ask a New York liquor store to prepare a gift package, the only things that can be included along with the wine and/or spirits are non-food items such as wrapping paper, a bow, packaging (such as a basket), or gift items (such as a stuffed animal). Furthermore, the packaging and any non-food gift items which are included must be given for free or sold at cost.

Kentucky Grocers Establish Separate Liquor Stores
Under Kentucky law, a retailer can’t get a license to sell wine or liquor if more than 10% of its sales come from selling groceries or gas. To get around this, some grocery stores build adjacent “liquor stores” with separate entrances that are right next to the grocery store entrance.

Forget Free Tastings in Ohio
In Ohio, it is illegal for those who have permits to sell alcohol for on-premise or off-premise consumption to give it away for free under any circumstances. As a result, liquor stores, restaurants, bars, etc. can only hold wine tastings if they charge consumers for the samples of wine that they consume.  Fortunately, on April 29, 2014 a bill was signed into law that will allow beer and wine retailers to host free tastings, under certain conditions.  However, the law does require a minimum 50 cents per sample charge for spirituous liquor containing more than 21 percent alcohol (42 proof).  The law takes effect July 10, 2014.

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