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State Senate expected to vote on the future of mail-order wine this week

State House Bureau

February 12. 2018 9:45PM

CONCORD — The state Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a bill to ban shipment of wine into New Hampshire from certain mail-order retailers.

Although the bill, sponsored by Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is endorsed by the N.H. Liquor Commission and N.H. Grocers Association, the Senate Commerce Committee recommends it be defeated.

“The committee feels this bill is overreaching and does not allow for free market competition,” according to state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

New Hampshire is the only state in which alcohol is sold through state-run outlets that allows brick-and-mortar retailers from out of state to ship directly to in-state consumers.

“Only eight states in total allow this type of shipping,” says NHLC Commission Chair Joe Mollica. “We are looking to protect our retailers and tax structure. This will only affect 81 retailers from outside of this state that direct ship into our state and compete against our businesses in New Hampshire.”

Mollica says wine clubs, auction houses or wineries shipping directly to consumers would not be affected

“We understand that our consumers want the products from the small boutique wineries. This would not affect them,” he said. “This simply affects the big retailers — the Wegmans, Total Wine, Absolut, Kendall Jackson.”

Mollica estimates that competition from big direct-mail vendors is costing the NHLC $11 million to $11.5 million in sales, which translates into $3 million to $3.5 million in lost contributions to the state budget.

“It’s affecting the bottom line of the state, and we’re the only control state that allows it,” he said. “Those that did allow it have banned it because they want to protect their state.”

The National Association of Wine Retailers describes the bill as “an attempt to reduce competition at the expense of the state’s consumers.”

“The out-of-state wine store is a very important source of products for New Hampshire consumers who almost always look to state stores first when seeking out a particular wine,” said NAWR executive director Tom Wark.

“Passage of SB 353 would be a blow to the state’s free market for wine, to consumer access to wine and to the $400,000 in revenue the state receives from out-of-state wine stores.”

Last week the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to recommend against the bill.

“The Liquor Commission has no business restricting consumer choice with policies that violate the principle of free trade and free markets in order to protect the commission’s bottom line,” said Wark. “This was the view driven home by New Hampshire wine lovers when they delivered more than 600 emails to committee members and other senators opposing SB 353.”

NHLC spokesman E.J. Powers says the state never anticipated the popularity of internet shopping when it decided to allow direct shipment into the state back in 2003.

“At that time, we were ahead of the curve without question. No one knew this would grow into the business it has … that the internet would grow into what it’s grown into,” he said.

“At the time we were trying to be proactive and allow consumers to have that selection available to them because it wasn’t available in state stores, but it’s not quite the same now.”

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