How Importers Can Ship DtC

Delaney McDonald | July 13, 2020

The beverage alcohol industry has many complicated rules and regulations that vary by state. Even though importers are similar to other members of the “supplier” tier (like wineries and breweries), they are often treated differently in federal and state regulations. This is particularly true when it comes to direct-to-consumer (DtC) wine shipping. 

Currently, 46 states permit DtC wine shipping, but most restrict the necessary licenses to only businesses that hold both TTB-issued Basic Permits and a wine production license issued by their home state. About 15 allow retailer licensees to ship wine DtC, 10 allow beer shipping, and four allow shipping by spirit producers and retailers. However, importers, who on their own do not qualify as either a “producer” or a “retailer,” are almost entirely excluded from states’ DtC laws, preventing them from getting the necessary licenses.

How can importers start shipping wine DtC?

  1. Importers can become licensed wine producers. To get access to the option of DtC wine shipping, importers can become licensed wine producers. Under this method, the importer can receive a DtC license and ship wine DtC that they produce themselves. With this option, importers will still have to contend with various states’ wine production and DtC shipping laws. Not all states have these laws, but many do and enforce them heavily.
  2. Importers can get a retail license in addition to their importer license in the states they operate in, then ship DtC to other states that permit DtC shipping by retailers. In some states there are trade restrictions which make this unavailable to importers. And, in some states if you have a retailer license, you must also open a physical store and offer inventory to your walk-in customers. 
These options are not available for all importers in all states. There are many trade practice restrictions that limit when a licensee can own multiple licenses in a state, particularly when it comes to cross-tier licensing (i.e. being both a “supplier” and a “retailer”.) While there are cases where someone licensed as an importer can also receive and hold a wine-manufacturing or wine-retailing license in a state, it is far from universal and so importers should proceed with extreme caution when looking into these options.

Importers’ DtC shipping options remain limited

Although there has been significant effort to allow importers to have the same permissions that wine producers have been enjoying—until the laws are amended, importers will continue to have a limited DtC shipping map.