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Dec 23, 2002 03:03 PM

The Impossibility Of Legally Shipping A Bottle Of Wine To Italy From VA

  • j

I tried to do this today using my Fed Ex account. I was honest on the customs form and told, no, I could not do it. Nor could I do it from D. C. Only wholesalers are allowed to do this. D. C. shocked me since I hadn't expected this to be true for there also.
Now I know that Virginia is a closed state in so far as receiving deliveries from out of state wineries and/or clubs, countries, etc. But to not be able to ship ONE bottle of wine to a friend in another country as a Christmas present? This is truly ludicrous.
I am aware that several recent state supreme court decisions are close to reversing this pending more appeals by the wholesalers and distributors. But this must be one of the most self-serving senseless laws on the books. It absolutely amazes me that something like this was ever passed into law in the first place.
Having said all of this my friend in Italy likes a particular brand of American bbq sauce that he cannot buy there. I believe I am going to ship him a bottle "instead."

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  1. Outrageous!!

    Now I am sure that if it was a Virginia wine you were trying to send....well no problem! Ay yi yi!! I swear these distributors have our elected officials wrapped up!! They say the reason they don't allow any shipments in is to keep liquor out of the hands of minors. But to ship out? What's the deal? The taxes have been paid, so what's the beef? I wonder if MD has the same law? Anybody know?

    Joe, could the winery direct ship to your friend? I am sure if it is Californian or Oregonian wine, they would have no problems shipping it direct for you with a note. Or is the one you were trying to send not of a current vintage?

    Debbie S.

    7 Replies
    1. re: dstultz

      It's a bottle of '99 Leonetti Merlot which, to get to me, I have to have shipped first to a friend in California and then to me. Probably I am saying more on this board than I should but the end result is my responsibility and not the winery's. I actually believe the state of Virginia regards this as a felony!
      Leonetti is very "correct" and will do absolutely nothing to endanger themselves with any state or municipal government, thus they ship to California (and a few other states) and anything after that is, understandably, no longer their responsibility. Because there is an annual allocation of two cases there is not the opportunity to have it shipped direct.
      I have found a solution: two friends leave for Spain on the 30th of December. They are going to carry the package with my single bottle of wine and ship it from Malaga to Florence. But it shouldn't be this way. I don't mean to carry on unnecessarily about this but it is REALLY absolutely outrageous that my state-any state-can get away with this. A single bottle of wine!!! Not a case, but a single bottle!

      1. re: Joe H.

        Yes, it is outrageous and many believe unconstitutional. I implore you and wine lovers everywhere to channel your outrage in constructive ways by supporting and the Coaltion for Free Trade to stomp out distribution monopolies. Little by little they are making a difference through the courts, but their funds are miniscule compared to the opposition. We need your help to change this.

        To share my own encounter with Virginia's alcohol laws, I cleared customs at Dulles two years ago on my way back to San Francisco. The agent saw the three cases of Burgundy on my declaration, hustled me off to the side with other "liquor" smugglers and told me that all but one bottle would be confiscated. I was able to convince a supervisor that as a resident of California, I should be able to import them to my own state. I was escorted to the luggage check-in to make sure that none of my contraband was left behind in Virginia. I'll never fly through Dulles from Europe again.



        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I live in Virginia but have not had the same difficulty with bringing in wine from overseas. I have made at least three particularly memorable trips back to VA from Europe and Chile, each time with at least one case of wine that I declared on my customs form, and in no instance did I have any trouble whatsoever, even to the extent that they did not charge me duty on the wine!

          1. re: James G

            I'm glad you've had better luck. Were your trips in recent years? Just be aware that under Virginia law, importing more than 1L of alcohol requires an importer's license and Customs will enforce the laws of the state.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Melanie, despite my "confrontation" yesterday with Fed Ex I've had two rather interesting experiences with customs and wine over the past two years.
              1. I had a case of '97 Cepperello shipped to me from a wine shop in Panzano in Tuscany. I know them and they were nice and generous enough with their time to ship this to me at the Italian price (about US $35 a bottle plus shipping of around $175 for the case which averages about $50 a bottle at a time that it was going for $80 to 100 here because of the WS' #3 ranking). It was stopped at Customs at Dulles and I was contacted that I needed to contact a wholesaler/distributor/retailer as well as pay the duty to take delivery of it. After all this was done I had spent ANOTHER $500, PERHAPS A BIT MORE to essentially pay off people to bring the wine in. At the end of the day the per bottle price was about the same as the inflated American price. What truly bothered me (as well as the cost)is that the case sat in a warehouse at Dulles when the temperature on several days went above 90 degrees. I still haven't opened a bottle to know if it suffered because of this.
              2. On a trip from Italy two years ago I brought back a salami from Tuscany and the fat Customs beagle sniffed it. Now, don't misunderstand but I really love animals (we have three cats that sleep in bed with us). But this dog is so fat from eating European contraband that his belly drags on the ground when he is led by the leash sniffing luggage. Essentially every afternoon when the European flights land he goes looking for dinner! Anyway, they made me open ALL of my luggage. I had 13 750 ml bottles of wine along with two magnums. (It was the '97 vintage.) They looked at me like I was a wino (which is probably somewhat accurate.) and just smiled and told me to pack it up and go. They went out of their way to make certain that I left his dinner behind.
              Bottom line: whoever is on duty when you or your luggage come by has extraordinary power. Some prefer to assert it, some not.
              I should note that I have never specified the quantity of wine nor its value. But I do list "wine."
              One last note: I've been on Leonetti's mailing list since 1990. They have not been willing to ship into Virginia where I live for the past three or four years. I should add understandably. But I have come up with some very creative ways to receive their wine which usually include having it shipped into a reciprocal state first. Domestic shipments via courier usually do not ask the contents so there is no need to misrepresent what is in the container. For overseas shipments this must be done and I refuse to lie about it just as I will declare "wine" on the customs form.
              All of this is just so ludicrous. There is absolutely no other way that I can get Leonetti than by being fortunate enough to be on their mailing list. It doesn't show up on shelves here and their merlot rarely shows up in most years in California or Washington except at trumped up prices.
              Anyway, of course, I'll do whatever I can to lend my voice to repeal this.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Guess I've been lucky, since it's all been within the past few years (since 1999) and I have never had a problem. Though one time the agent had no idea what "foie gras" was and was not sure that it could be brought in, even though it was sealed, labeled as being phytosanitarily clean, etc...

                1. re: James G

                  The only agent at Customs who truly understands basic differences such as good and bad wine, good and bad Tuscan salami is the beagle who has a vested interest.

      2. Hmm, maybe you can contact one of the more customer friendly wine stores in DC (like Cleveland Park Liquor) to see if they can ship it for you.

        That said, I shipped wine to France (of all places) last year, but I did it during a rush at the Adams Morgan post office (chaos!) and I was a bit vague on the declaration form...

        3 Replies
        1. re: mouse

          As a man my wife would say that I am VERY good at being vague. For a purpose such as this it is one of the few things in life that I excel at! Yet it is a shame that such talent should be used for such a pedestrian purpose. Much could be said for honesty yet here, it does not seem to be rewarded or understood.

          1. re: mouse

            Please be careful. What I'm finding out is that federal law prohibits the shipping of any "Intoxicating liquors having 0.5 percent or more alcoholic content." This includes taxable liquors with 3.2 percent or less alcohol, as well as those obtained under a prescription or as a collector’s item. The federal statute reference I have found is 18 U.S.C. 1716.

            1. re: asun

              Actually, there is a host of issues involved, not just state but federal as well. One is shipping alcohol across state lines (federal). It is permitted, but limited to, I believe, 4 gallons. Second, in Virginia, it is not just shipping out of state but also shipping in state but out of a particular distributor's jurisdiction (not sure about quantities), which applies to alcoholic beverages not regulated statewide by ABC. You may find out that no carrier (FedEx, postal service, etc.) in Virginia will agree to accept alcoholic beverages if declared as such, simply because trying to figure out the fine print of what is permitted and what is not is just too cumbersome for them, so they apply the rule across the board. If you do need to ship something, you may decide not to declare it but you do it at your own risk (loss, breakage, fines if found out, etc.).

          2. This is a very interesting, if not practical, issue. It seems that the laws of most states--VA included--do not actually address the issue of whether a person can or cannot ship alcohol out-of-state. I would guess that your federal express agent figured since the importation of wine is banned then so would the exportation, but I do not believe the law actually says this.

            On the other hand, practically speaking, I doubt this tidbit of information would do any good in face of a recalcitrant federal express employee, though if you go to several places, you might find one who will let you do it.