Why Wine Can Be So Hard To Find

For a country that values “free trade” and loves wine, it can sure be difficult to purchase wine in parts of the United States. There are a lot of reasons for this, including regional tastes, limited availability, and prohibitive cost, but far and away the most vexing roadblocks for American wine lovers are the barriers to inter-state trade enacted during the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Prohibition was an anti-alcohol temperance effort that in 1919 led to the ratification of the 18th amendment to the US constitution banning the sale of alcohol in the entire country. There were so many loopholes and efforts to produce alcohol illegally that the amendment in the end only served to promote organized crime and leave a confusing web of conflicting laws in its wake when it was repealed.

The Supreme Court of the United States (photo: Wine Spectator)

The Supreme Court of the United States (photo: Wine Spectator)

I bring all this up because a challenge to existing laws is coming up before the Supreme Court - it’s the first major wine case before the court in nearly 15 years, and while the arguments may get very technical and arcane, the outcome of the case will affect most wine lovers in the country and, in its impact on the wine industry, lovers of American wine in other countries as well.

The best explanation I’ve seen of the issues involved is by the excellent wine journalist W. Blake Gray writing for Wine Searcher. Wine Searcher started out as a website and smartphone app to help consumers locate the best prices on wine, but it has become an invaluable resource not only in finding wine but in understanding wine through an extensive and generally well-researched blog and library of wine articles.

Here’s the link to Gray’s two articles - everything you need to know about why the American wine market is dysfunctional and what may happen in the wake of this court decision.