Putting A Cork In Online Wine Sales

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 1:23pm

Texas cracks down on unlicensed wine sellers.

A Texas crackdown is under way on merchants who sell wine online without paying for proper permits and taxes.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission worked with FedEx and other shippers to identify incoming wine deliveries from companies that do not comply with state law.

"We sent them letters and asked them to cease and desist," TABC Maj. Charlie Cloud said.

Texas alcoholic beverage sales operate under a three-tier system.

Retailers must buy from licensed Texas wholesalers, which purchase from producers.

However, licensed wineries are also allowed to sell directly to customers.

"What's fair about some people obtaining their permit and doing it legally and other people not doing it legally? There's nothing fair about that," Cloud said.

La Cave Warehouse on Market Center Boulevard in Dallas has been selling wine to local customers for 34 years.

You might expect owners Francois and Anne Chandou to be pleased with the TABC crackdown on unlicensed competitors, but they said state laws protect wholesaler profits.

"They want Texas to be a captive audience to them," Francois Chandou said.

The La Cave owners said customers would be better served if the system allowed people to purchase products anywhere, including from online, out-of-state merchants.

"They're not necessarily getting away with something," Anne Chandou said. "They're shipping a product to a customer who wants that product, and that customer should be entitled to get that product."

Several online wine sellers have stopped deliveries to Texas since the TABC investigation.

Wine.com, one of the companies contacted by the TABC, claims more than 30,000 Texas customers.

To comply with Texas law, Wine.com is planning to open a Houston warehouse where the company will buy from Texas wholesalers and serve Texas customers.

"We're realistic about the current laws," said Rich Bergsund, of Wine.com.

"If they're going to play by the rules, we welcome them," Cloud said.

But the TABC told the Austin American-Statesman that such a warehouse would only allow the company to ship to customers within the Houston area.

The agency also told the newspaper that there is no law that allows out-of-state retailers to get permits to sell to Texans.
 

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