Freeing the Grapes in Indiana: Vinsense Provides an Additional Voice

In late February I met with Allen Dale (Ole) Olson, a retired federal civil servant, wine consultant and wine writer (see his blog HoosierWineCellars). Ole has become upset enough with the archiac beverage laws in Indiana to form a group named Vinsense. And he's recently jumped through the hoops to become a registered lobbyist so he can talk to Indiana legislators about why Indiana consumers (over 21 of course) cannot purchase wines freely.

Ole hosted the annual meeting of Vinsense at the Brown County Winery in Nashville, Indiana at the end of February. I am very impressed at the activities of this small but dedicated group, and think that their goal of revealing contributions to Indiana legislators by groups opposed to freeing the grapes is a good one. Vinsense itself operates on a small-but-growing budget that is augmented by tremendous passion and righteous indignation, and BRAVO! I'm rooting for them!

You can read more at the Vinsense website, CLICK HERE. But a quick summary provided by Ole, who is president of the group, is below:

"THE WHAT AND WHY OF VINSENSE: VinSense, Inc. is an Indiana-based wine consumer advocacy group of approximately 3,000 members formed in the early spring of 2007 to work toward the passage of legislation to allow Hoosiers to use modern communications media – internet, phone, fax, mail – to order wine directly from wineries.

VinSense draft legislation resulted from recognition that the existing three-tier system denies Indiana residents access to some 95% of all wines produced in the United States because Hoosiers are required by law to purchase wines only from licensed retail stores or from wineries they have personally visited and which are properly licensed for such shipping. Retail stores, in turn, can sell only wines made available to them by licensed wholesale distributors.

This means that Indiana consumers have had their wine choices pre-selected for them at two levels – wholesale and retail. With nearly 10,000 new wines entering the nation’s markets every year, it is impossible for wholesalers to procure, stock, and offer for sale a substantive percentage of them. Same for retailers.

Using data from a 2003 study by the Federal Trade Association, VinSense calls attention to the fact that the 35 states allowing direct shipping have reported no problems with either underage drinking or collection of appropriate taxes related to direct shipping. That study disproves the most common arguments used by opponents of direct shipping.

VinSense vigorously opposes underage drinking and just as vigorously supports the state’s right to collect appropriate taxes on direct sales. Both issues are addressed in the draft legislation submitted via Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) to the Legislative Services Agency. That legislation was tabled by the Senate Public Policy Committee when the President Pro Tem ruled that no alcohol-related bills would be heard during the 2009 session of the General Assembly.

The incoming Chair of the Legislative Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Legislation has promised to include VinSense in hearings planned for summer 2009."

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