A law enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 allowing direct shipment of wine to consumers appears to be having its intended effect of expanding consumer choice -- at least for the connoisseurs who care about such things.
A report prepared by the Comptroller's Office on the direct wine shipment program shows that Maryland consumers' access to the world's top-rated wines increased by about 30 percent.
The agency used as its measure the "Top 100" wines list put out each year by The Wine Spectator, one of the leading journals in the field. The comptroller reported that 40 of the wines -- 11 imported and 29 American -- were available through state-licensed wholesalers last year. The direct wine shipment program added another 13 domestic wines, according to the report.
Forty-four of the top 100 are imported wines that aren't available in Maryland. So with the new law, Maryland wine lovers with the money to afford such luxuries have access to 56 of them, according to the report.
The report indicates that Maryland consumers are using their new freedom to order direct from wineries to acquire many wines that fall outside the top 100 -- many of which carry three-figure price tags. The average cost of a bottle shipped under the program was $24.42 -- about the cost of a high-quality cabernet sauvignon from California's Sonoma Valley.
The comptroller reported that 629 wineries have acquired permits to ship directly to Maryland customers -- indicating a significant expansion of state wine drinkers' access to wines made by producers that aren't represented by wholesalers here.
The report is the first detailed analysis of the effects of the direct wine shipment law, which took effect July 1, 2011.
In terms of total volume and dollars, direct shipment represents a tiny percentage of the wine market in Maryland. In the budget year that ended June 30, Maryland wholesalers sold 14.7 million gallons of wine. Direct shipment accounted for 49,350 gallons.
The comptrollers' report shows that even at that modest level, direct shipment is bringing revenue into the state's coffers -- $126,100 in permit fees and $567,524 in taxes last year. According to the agency, that easily made up for the roughly $100,000 in extra costs of starting up the program.
The comptroller reported that most of the work was accomplished by the existing staff within the agency's budget.