Buying Wine Online in Maryland — Your Chance to Be Heard

Update on last Friday’s hearings at the end of this post.

You know I try to stay (relatively) apolitical in this blog.  But there are two important hearings in the Maryland legislature tomorrow (March 4) on bills that would allow Maryland residents to order wine from outside the state.

Many of you who have come to first vine tastings in DC have bemoaned your lack of access to online wine sales, wine clubs, and purchases from wineries you visit.  Now’s your chance to help change that.

A great (and colorful) state — unless you live there and want to buy wine outside its borders.

As has been reported in the Washington Post, the Maryland alcohol industry has finally seen the writing on the wall:  Maryland residents want to order wine from other states.  The Comptroller’s office produced a report on the issue and concluded – rightly – that the nonsense spouted by Maryland distributors and retailers in the past about access to alcohol by minors from ordering online hasn’t happened in other states that allow direct shipping.  And that Marylanders want to be able to buy wines that they can’t find in their local shops, or from wineries they’ve visited.

So you’d think this would be a no-brainer, right?

Not exactly.

As the Post reported, the Chair of the Senate Health, Education, and Environment Committee (where the bill hearing will be held), is opposed to allowing Marylanders to buy from retailers in other states.  So while you’d be able to buy from wineries in other states (and Maryland wineries as well) and have the wine shipped to you, you couldn’t buy from retail sites like or from any retail wine club that’s not shipped directly from a winery.  So no Wine Spectator or Wall Street Journal selections.

What does this mean for you?  Simply that if a wine isn’t available directly from a U.S. winery or from a retail shop in Maryland, you can’t buy it.  There are plenty of retailers outside of Maryland, large and small, that carry wines no one else has.  And you won’t be able to buy any of them.  Senator Joan Carter Conway, Chair of the committee debating the bill, has decided  — without evidence — that allowing you to buy from out-of-state retailers would hurt Maryland businesses.

And she got a helping hand from the Comptroller, Peter Franchot.  In public statements about direct shipping, the Comptroller has said that people buy from out-of-state retailers based primarily on price, when his office’s own report clearly states that price is one factor, but selection is far more important.

And even if price were the prime motivator, so what?  Senator Conway is engaging in protectionism, pure and simple.  Right now, any wine you buy in a Maryland wine shop has to have been purchased first from a distributor in Maryland.  Allowing you to buy wine from outside Maryland means bypassing the typical supply chain, along with all those markups.

The fact is that not every importer or producer can afford to sell to a Maryland distributor – either because they don’t produce or have enough of the wine to meet distributors’ required minimums, or because the inevitable markups will make the wine too expensive for consumers.  Many of these wines are marketed exclusively through retailers or retail wine clubs, including wines from small producers in Europe, Australia, South Africa, and South America — plus some U.S. wineries that don’t want to have their own direct shipping operations.  Buying from the retailer or wine club may or may not result in a price that’s lower than you would pay for a comparable wine in a Maryland shop, assuming you could find it.  But either way, Senator Conway’s bill won’t get those wines into the hands of Maryland customers.

So if you have time on Friday, and have an opinion about this issue, please go to the hearing, which starts at 1 pm in 2 West Miller Senate Building, 11 Bladen Street, Annapolis, MD.  If you can testify at the hearing, you’ll need to register by noon to be on the list.

The situation in the House of Delegates is better.  Delegate Jolene Ivey, Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, has publicly stated her support for a bill that includes wineries and retailers.  But it wouldn’t hurt to show your support at her hearing.  It’s at the same time as the Senate hearing, 1 pm, in the House Office Building, Room 230.  If you want to testify, you’ll have to sign up by 12:45 pm.

Obviously, this is pretty short notice.  But it’s important for Maryland residents to let their legislators know that they’d like to buy from out-of-state wineries and retailers.  Even if the hearings go badly for retail provisions, there are chances to include them again up until the time that a bill reaches Governor O’Malley’s desk for signature.

So even if you can’t go to either hearing, please contact your Senator and Delegate.  And while you’re sending that e-mail (directly through this link or by form here), please copy Senator Conway ( and Delegate Ivey (, too.  If you’re using the online form, please be sure to personalize it and say that you want to be able to buy wine from out-of-state retailers.

[Update on Friday’s hearings from Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws:  the House and Senate hearings took place as scheduled, and the committees will hold markups on Wednesday.  The House hearing was a little more spirited, and witnesses offered potential amendments such as stripping out retailer provisions and making wineries certify that their wines aren’t already available from retailers in Maryland.  Nothing like that was offered on the Senate side, but we know that the Senate is already more likely to strip out retail provisions.]

I paired wines with recipes for Lauren’s upcoming French Bistro Cooking show

Thanks for your help, and sorry to stray from my usual wine/food/general frivolity.  But just so you don’t think that I’ve turned into a total political wonk, here’s a recipe to fortify you for the task.  I mentioned in my last post that we met Lauren DeSantis, host of Capitol Cooking, at the wine and food show.  She asked me to pair some first vine wines with the dishes she was making for her upcoming French Bistro Cooking episode.  Lauren taped the show last Saturday, and we also taped some segments with me talking about the wines I paired with the food.  Lauren posted the first one on her site, so go and check it out!

Lauren made the soup with Cave la Romaine Delice White ($10), a blend of White Grenache, Bourboulenc, and Clairette.  You can also serve it with the dish, or go with the red I recommended, Cave la Vinsobraise Ambre ($12).  It’s a lighter-bodied blend of Grenache and Syrah, great with everyday meals.   And while you might not make the soup everyday, I think I could definitely eat it more than every once in a while!

Bon Appetit!


Courtesy of Capitol Cooking with Lauren DeSantis, reprinted with her permission.

Serves 4-6

6 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
Olive oil
4 cups water
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1 cup Cave la Romaine Delice Cotes du Ventoux White wine
1 Shenandoah Growers bay leaf
1 teaspoon of Shenandoah Growers fresh thyme
1 sprig of Italian parsley from Shenandoah Growers
Salt and pepper
French baguette, sliced
Swiss Cheese for the top

In a large stockpot, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until browned, but not burned, to remove all of the water.  Reduce heat to medium and deglaze with the white wine.  Let the wine reduce for about 10 minutes.  Then add stock and water to cover the onions.  Cover partially and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Discard the bay leaf and parsley.

To serve use individual oven-proof soup bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.  Cover with slices of baguette and top with cheese.  Put broiler on high and cook until the cheese bubbles and is slightly brown.  Serve immediately, but be careful of the hot bowls.

This entry was posted in Capitol Cooking with Lauren DeSantis, Cave la Romaine, Cave la Vinsobraise, French Onion Soup, french wine, Maryland Wine Shipping, Musings/Lectures/Rants, recipes, Tom Natan, wine delivery washington dc and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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