State should allow direct to consumer shipping for craft distillers

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The Legislature has a chance to modernize the state’s alcohol shipping laws and allow consumers to buy distilled spirits like they do wine.

In 1986 when the Legislature allowed the wine industry to ship their product to consumers through direct mail there were roughly 700 wineries in the state generating about $5 billion in sales. Now California is approaching 4,000 wineries that generate $40 billion a year.

Everyone has benefited from this commonsense practice of direct-to-consumer shipping. It allowed small and family businesses to flourish, created jobs and generated revenue for delivery companies, distributors, retail stores and the state.

Unfortunately, the law is outdated and doesn’t allow the state’s growing distilled spirits makers to ship their products – gin, bourbon, whiskey, vodka – directly to consumers. Customers must visit a local craft distiller’s tasting room if they want to make a purchase.

The Legislature has a chance to modernize the state’s alcohol shipping laws with Senate Bill 620, introduced by Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat from Redondo Beach. It will allow consumers to purchase from in-state and out-of-state distillers just like they currently do with wine.

This will be a lifeline for California’s 150 craft distillers who average between 5-10 employees. Online sales and delivery would open these local family businesses to more consumers so the industry can grow.

A recent poll found that more than 75% of California adults support updating the statute to allow equality in the alcohol shipping laws so they can order directly from distillers. This makes sense since consumers have become accustomed to home deliveries for just about everything. Consumers also have peace of mind knowing that the common carriers that deliver these alcohol products adhere to strict safety requirements like ID check and signature upon delivery.

What makes SB 620 so critical is that it will help small and family-run businesses in the state. California’s craft distillers are so small they can’t get their products through distributors and on store shelves. By selling their products online and growing their business, they can get big enough to eventually partner with wholesalers and be sold in retail stores.

Opponents of the bill are spreading misinformation, saying that a bottle of spirits sold online is one less that will be sold in a store which will hurt jobs. But this is false. California’s craft distillers can’t even get their products into a store because the amount of product they produce is so small and unique.

If SB 620 becomes law, most consumers will continue to make their alcohol purchases at the grocery store, major outlets or their neighborhood store. But what they’ll also be able to do is make an online purchase of distilled spirits for a special occasion, ship bottles back home after visiting a tasting room, or join a spirit’s mail club like a wine club.

SB 620 is a commonsense bill that an overwhelming majority of Californians support. This is a win-win moment for the state. We urge the California Legislature to approve this legislation which will create jobs, grow small business, generate revenue for the state and help grow California’s distilled spirits industry into the shining example that is California’s wine industry.

Cris Steller is executive director of California Artisanal Distillers Guild.

Cris Steller | Special for Calmatters

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