Wineries and breweries dont normally ship products directly to consumers because of the high cost, but U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer is fighting to end that.
Legislation enabling the U.S. Postal Service to ship alcohol products at flat, unchanging rates has been backed by Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., who explained the policy during a conference call Wednesday. The bill would discontinue a prohibition-era law established in 1909 that prevents the Postal Service from delivering beer, wine and spirits to consumers. The ban gives competitors in the private sector, including UPS and FedEx, an advantage because they are allowed to ship alcohol.
The north country has a collective 29 wineries and seven breweries that would benefit from the legislation, which Mr. Schumer is pushing to include in a postal reform bill that will be introduced soon in the Senate.
The Postal Service would be required to start shipping alcohol within 120 days if the bill is approved.
The Postal Service estimated the new policy would result in about $225 million in annual revenue, Mr. Schumer said. That revenue supports 12,090 jobs in upstate New York, 1,030 of which are in the north country.
Mr. Schumer said the reduced cost of shipping offered by a flat rate would benefit wineries and breweries, which now are beholden to variable rates offered by private carriers. Wineries, for example, are shipping only about 5 percent of their product directly to consumers. The flat rate would enable businesses to gauge their sales more accurately, he said, and lead to more online sales.
Small wineries would benefit, because most of them only do business locally, Mr. Schumer said.
Out-of-state visitors who stop by small wineries will have more opportunities to purchase their favorite wines when they return home, said James S. Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. From 2011 to 2012, direct-to-consumer wine sales in the state increased by 7.7 percent in volume and are continuing to climb, Mr. Trezise said. The total value of sales increased by about 10 percent in 2012, making it the fastest-growing sales avenue for wineries.
Direct sales are the best, because the winery makes all of the money without having to share it with a middleman, like a wholesaler or retailer, Mr. Trezise said.
The Postal Service would require consumers to verify they are 21 years old with an adult signature, which is mandated under the Minimum Drinking Age Act.
The postal reform bill proposed in the House does not include the provision.