Selling wine online is a great way for beverage producers and retailers to reach a wider audience without too much of an upfront investment, but setting up your own e-commerce site puts the onus on you to make sure your alcohol sales are legal. Instead of your own storefront, you might use a third-party site, such as WineCommune, which allow users to post wine ads online and ship directly to the buyer. Even so, such sites also likely require the seller to assume the risk that the sales are legal.
Of course, all wine producers and retailers must be properly licensed and bonded to sell wine in their home states. But the challenge for the online seller is ensuring that every transaction also complies with law in the buyer’s state too.
In the United States, for better or worse, every state and territory regulates wine shipments to buyers within its borders, and many states have direct shipping regulations to be aware of. Direct-shipping laws might require you to have a permit to ship wine, to pay special fees, to limit sales to a certain quantity, or to observe other rules. These rules can apply even if your buyer is in the same state as you, the seller.
Figuring out how to comply with each destination state’s laws is daunting, but not impossible. Start by deciding which states you want to target first. Perhaps you will start with your home state and a populous neighbor, then branch out from there. Rather than hiring an attorney, try calling each state’s alcoholic beverage control agency first. A list of these offices is available on the TTB’s website. You may find that most of these offices can provide you with everything you need to get started. If you have a question about your sale that the target state’s control board cannot or will not answer, make sure to run the transaction by your lawyer first.
Be sure to leave yourself time to apply for and receive permits before offering something for sale in a given state. While you’re waiting, you should limit online advertising only to states in which you can ship wine. For example, Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Yahoo Ad Manager each allow you to display ads within a very specific geographic location that you select.
Last, the U.S. Postal Service cannot legally ship wine or any alcoholic beverage over 0.5% ABV. Call a private shipper like FedEx or UPS before posting your wine for sale to ensure you will get the product there. At a minimum, a buyer age 21 or over will have to sign for the package, although state law may impose additional requirements.
For more information, please contact a member of our Wine, Brew, and Spirits Group, or call 208.344.6000.