Utah last on list of wine-friendly states

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah ranks dead-last on a list of wine-friendly states for its government controls and Byzantine liquor laws.

California was ranked No. 1 by a consumer coalition for its specialty wine shops, the ability of shoppers to find wines in grocery stores, and for allowing wineries to ship directly to consumers.

Utah offers none of that, wine lovers say.

Nevada was ranked No. 8 for allowing grocery store sales and winery-to-consumer shipments.

The American Wine Consumer Coalition put out its rankings this month in a report titled, “Consuming Concerns: the 2013 State-by-State Report Card on Consumer Access to Wine.”

Washington state came in at No. 15, with a rating of B-. The coalition dinged the state for not allowing retailer to customer shipping.

“Utah wine consumers labor under the most restrictive laws in the nation, and that experience is nearly untenable for anyone who enjoys fine wine,” said Tom Wark, executive director of the nonprofit coalition, which advocates for less strict alcohol laws.

Sunday wine sales in Utah are prohibited, and selections are controlled by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control at state liquor stores.

The coalition said government monopolies deprive consumers of choices and lower prices. Pennsylvania is the only other state with a liquor monopoly that also controls the retail sale of wine, it said.

Nevada was hailed for having some of the most liberal wine-access laws. Consumers can pick up a bottle at liquor stores, wine shops or grocery stores. They can also mail-order bottles from wineries and wine stores. And Nevada doesn’t ban the sale of wine on Sundays.

A Utah legislator said Utah’s poor showing is “a badge of honor.”

“It shows we take seriously the effects of alcohol on society,” Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who writes many of Utah’s liquor laws, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah offers one advantage for wine drinkers. Consumers can carry an uncorked bottle of their selection to restaurants to enjoy with a meal.

The coalition knocked Utah for “arbitrarily” prohibiting the sale of wine on Sundays, when state liquor stores are closed. The report said Indiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma also enforce Sunday blackouts on wine and liquor.

Utah was among 17 states that prohibit wine sales in grocery stores, one of 11 states that ban the shipment of wine from wineries to consumers, and among 36 states that prohibit retailer-to-consumer shipping.

Idaho, ranked the No. 12 wine-friendly state, got a demerit only for keeping consumers from bring a bottle of their choice into dining establishments.

Wyoming was considered friendly with the exception of a ban on grocery store wine sales. Montana received a low ranking because of its prohibition of direct wine shipments and its ban on diners’ bringing wine to restaurants.

Since Prohibition, the coalition says, state laws governing access to wine have created a “complex and difficult to understand legal quilt.”

“Eighty years after passage of the 21st Amendment, many of the alcohol and wine-related laws put in place in the 1930s are still in place in most states, despite a cultural, economic and commercial reality that is starkly different from the 1930s,” the report said.

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