Minor Incidents

As the wine and spirits industry waits to hear a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that will determine whether states will continue to regulate mail order sales, Massachusetts has set its sights on ferreting out liquor marketers who sell to minors.

Massachusetts attorney general Tom Reilly announced in June that his office is suing four out-of-state online retailers accused of violating the state’s liquor laws and selling to underage buyers. The companies were allegedly caught during an undercover sting operation led by Reilly’s office, which used area college students as “buyers.”

The attorney general has named four direct marketers in the suit: New York-based Sherry-Lehmann Wines and Spirits; San Mateo, CA-based Wine Globe; Teaneck, NJ-based Queen Anne Wines and Spirits; and Lakemoor, IL-based Clubs of America. All four companies refused comment.

The attorney general referred three additional catalogers, Canton, MA-based Geerlings & Wade; San Francisco-based Wine.com; and New Rochelle, NY-based Wine Messenger, to the Massachusetts Alcohol Beverages Control Committee (ABCC) for possible citation for selling to minors.

Geerlings & Wade and Wine Messenger both refused to comment. Chris Kitze, chairman of Wine.com, says he cannot comment in detail on the possible violation, but he explains that his company has an agreement with its carrier, Federal Express, that requires the latter to check the IDs of all customers who sign for delivery. “It’s our job to card everyone,” Kitze says. “FedEx did not do its job as promised.” (FedEx did not return calls for comment.)

Besides, Kitze adds, adolescents seeking liquor usually do not turn to mail order companies due to the high price tag of these companies, which typically charge a minimum of $10-$20 a bottle of wine, and due as well to the necessary wait for delivery. “We do everything we can to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors,” he says. “There are a lot of easier places for kids to go.”

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