To the editor:
In a short legislative session where property taxes dominated the floor, the Indiana General Assembly once again affirmed the critical importance of the state's current system for alcohol beverage distribution.
For nearly 75 years, Indiana has used a "three-tier system," so called because the state-regulated distribution of alcoholic beverages goes from a producer to a distributor to a retailer. Thanks to this structured system, also successfully used in the majority of other U.S. states, Hoosiers can be assured that safeguards are in place to maintain an inventory allowing for fantastic retail access and consumer choice of quality-controlled products and reduce access to minors. Alcohol distributors function as an extension of the State Excise Police, only accepting and delivering products from licensed producers and to licensed retailers.
Distributors are also considered an extension of the Indiana Department of Revenue because we directly pay over $40 million in state excise taxes and only deliver to retailers who are in good standing on their taxes.
Once again in this year's session, some wineries claimed that distributors are stymieing wine market growth with unnecessary shipping limitations. While I would agree that distributors favor the state's position that shipping of alcoholic beverages should be controlled, I would hardly call the wine industry's growth stymied. In fact, Indiana lawmakers in this session increased the yearly amount of product a winery can sell from 500,000 to 1 million gallons.
Indiana's wine industry has not been held back by alcohol distributors -- according to the Indiana Wine Grape Council, the industry is growing at a rapid rate of about 15 percent annually in gallons sold.
Contrary to some opinions in the wine industry, alcohol distributors are partly to thank for the wine industry's growth. Indiana distributors play an important role in helping market Indiana wines to retailers, especially from smaller wineries. We maintain strong relationships with major Indiana wine producers, such as Oliver Winery and Easely Winery, helping boost their presence in the marketplace.
In their wisdom, the Indiana Legislature did reject the Indiana wine industry's efforts to increase the direct shipping limit for wine from 3,000 cases each year in-state to 10,000 cases. The current 3,000 figure is already meeting, in many cases exceeding, the consumer demand for wines produced by the small wineries who are most interested in raising the limit. Raising the limit would allow more alcohol products to bypass the safeguards built into the current three-tier system.
The fact is the three-tier system works for Indiana. By maintaining today's system, consumption is regulated, pricing is fair, and face-to-face purchase transactions are mandated to help reduce underage drinking.
The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Indiana applaud the Indiana General Assembly for reinforcing our state's continued need for a safe, transparent and economically sound alcohol distribution system. We will continue to defend our state's system proven successful not only in Indiana, but across the country.
Jim Purucker is executive director of Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Indiana, a not-for-profit trade association that serves as Indiana's alcohol import manager and represents the state's leading alcohol distributors.
Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Indiana