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Pennsylvania law affects shipping alcohol in state via Postal Service

| Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

The Postal Service wants to start shipping booze through the mail in an effort to infuse millions of dollars of revenue into the ailing federal mail service.

But before a bottle of wine could be delivered alongside bills and birthday cards, lawmakers would need to significantly overhaul rules restricting shipping alcohol in the state.

“If the U.S. Postal Service would grant the ability to do that, there would definitely have to be some changes to Pennsylvania law,” said Capt. Troy Lokhaiser, head of the state police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said customers might want to mail home bottles of wine from a vineyard they visited. The agency has looked at providing special boxes holding two to six bottles and flat-rate shipping anywhere in the country.

Delivering alcohol could raise as much as $50 million a year, Donahoe said. The agency lost $16 billion last year.

“There's a lot of money to be made in shipping beer, wine and spirits,” Donahoe said. “We'd like to be in that business.”

Federal law bans mailing alcohol through the USPS, but legislation aimed at revitalizing the agency could change that. The Senate passed a bill last year that included a provision to allow shipping alcohol. A competing bill that passed through a House committee did not permit the USPS to deliver alcohol.

The Senate provision, however, required that all shipments comply with any state laws from where the shipment originated and to where it was delivered. That is where Pennsylvania law could stop some deliveries.

Wineries and distilleries must be licensed with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to ship within the state, Stacy Kriedeman, a spokeswoman for the agency, wrote in an email.

Manufacturers must use a delivery service specially licensed by the state to transport alcohol. The USPS would have to apply for a delivery license.

Pennsylvanians may order wine and spirits from a state-run website, www.finewineandgoodspirits.com, and have it shipped either to their address or a Fine Wine and Spirits store. The state uses UPS for deliveries.

All beer must be shipped from the manufacturer to a wholesaler to a retailer. Beer cannot be shipped directly from an out-of-state brewery to someone in Pennsylvania, Kriedeman said.

State laws could change. Amid a partisan debate about privatizing the state-run liquor stores, the House in late July overwhelmingly passed — only one member voted against it — a bill that would allow out-of-state wineries not already licensed by the state to sell directly to consumers. The bill creates a new category of license for direct sales.

“Consumers keep telling us they want to have wine directly shipped to their home,” said state Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, who has sponsored similar legislation in past sessions.

“There's definitely a bipartisan and, I believe, bicameral support to get this done,” Costa said.

Allowing wineries to sell directly to consumers could help Pennsylvania's wine industry, Costa said. If the state permits in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers, it must do the same for out-of-state wineries under a 2005 Supreme Court ruling.

Wineries shipped 3.18 million cases of wine directly to U.S. consumers in 2013, a $1.46 billion business, according to Wines and Vines, an industry publication.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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