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California wineries benefit most from new state law

TIMES RECORD FILE PHOTO // Mark Mainer, left, selects a bottle of Wiederkehr's Shiraz as others shop after a wine tasting and tour at Wiederkehr's in Altus in June 2006.Buy Photo
TIMES RECORD FILE PHOTO // Mark Mainer, left, selects a bottle of Wiederkehr's Shiraz as others shop after a wine tasting and tour at Wiederkehr's in Altus in June 2006.

The Arkansas wine shipment law the state Legislature passed last year has benefited California wineries the most.

It is the first time out-of-state wineries have been allowed to ship wine to Arkansas, and it has been seven years since Arkansas wineries could ship their products either in-state or out of state.

At least 86 California wineries, mostly in Napa Valley, applied for wine shipment permits with the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control from December to July. One-third of the permit applications came in April.

Only two Arkansas wineries, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars in Wiederkehr Village and Chateau Aux Arc, applied for the wine shipment permit, which went into effect last August. At least 11 wineries operate in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History & Culture.

Wine shipment applications for Arkansas became available in December and the first applications were sent in January, according to ABC staff attorney Mary Robin Casteel.

A total of 89 wine shipment applications have been issued: 86 in California, one in Oregon, one in Washington state and two in Arkansas.

“You have to be present at the winery to buy the wine and can have one case shipped back per quarter,” said Michael Langley, ABC director.

Al Wiederkehr of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars said the rule “leaves a lot to be desired” and that it is “restrictive” but a step in the right direction. He would not say how much wine Wiederkehr winery ships, but the Beau Noir red wine blend is his best seller.

Audrey House of Chateau Aux Arc in Altus said about one-third of her sales were made up of shipments to customers before a 2007 ban on wine shipments went into effect. A 2005 law allowed Arkansas wineries to make direct shipments anywhere but did not allow wineries in other states to make shipments to Arkansas.

Since the ban, House says she has received requests from customers calling from both in and out of state requesting a shipment, especially during Christmas. Even with the new rule, House and other Arkansas winemakers cannot ship to a customer unless the customer has physically purchased it at the winery.

Although Arkansas wine shipping permits are only $25, with a shipping label of no more than $10, the shipping permits from other states can range from $750 to $5,000, House said.

Policies have been in place with shippers like FedEx and UPS to ensure that no one under 21 handles the wine, House added.

On May 16, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Michigan and New York could not ban interstate direct shipments of wine while allowing in-state wineries to ship to residents. Arkansas lawmakers banned both direct shipments from in-state and out-of-state wineries to meet the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Arkansas wineries, a major component of agritourism, were allowed in 2001 to begin selling their products in grocery and convenience stores following the repeal of a 1981 law.

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