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Road Trips Ahead for Virginia Wine

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Starting July 1, winemakers and -sellers will be able to apply for a $50 shippers' license and then begin sending up to two cases of wine per month to any customer in one of the 13 reciprocity states — those that have laws allowing wine to be shipped as long as the practice is legal in the state of origin. (The delivery company is responsible for ensuring the recipient is 21 years old or older and for checking the ABC license of the sender.)

It's great news for those in Virginia's wine business — or is it? Wineries and wine merchants are trying to figure out how the new law will change the market.

The owners of the state's more than 80 wineries believe the change will make their 400,000 annual out-of-town tasters happy. Lew Parker of Willowcroft Winery, president of the Virginia Wineries Association, says they receive "many, many requests to ship" from tourists, but until now they were unable to comply.

Not all wineries are big enough to start mass-marketing alone, Parker says, but they anticipate that business will grow. For example, the Virginia Wine of the Month Club will at last be able to ship outside the state, he says, which "will indirectly open up a bigger market for Virginia wineries."

Of course, those wineries may face stiffer competition, now that their fellows in other states, as well as other retailers, also may send wine to Virginia customers. Yet, "a rising tide kind of lifts all ships," says Terri Cofer Beirne, a Richmond attorney who served as lobbyist for the Virginia Wine Association. The ships aren't exactly sinking now — in October, Gov. Mark Warner announced that the Virginia wine industry accounted for $95.7 million in economic activity last year.

Julia Battaglini, owner of River City Cellars in Carytown, says she doubts Virginia wineries will suffer competitively from any mass-market "baby Gallos" that might ship directly to Virginia consumers. "Does Amazon replace Fountain Books? No," she says.

As for Battaglini's own business, she says she plans to contact each state to find out what the laws are before sending wine there. "I would love to open up my e-commerce to the rest of the country … but I'm not going to do anything illegal."

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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