A new state law takes effect today that makes it easier for wine aficionados and casual consumers alike to purchase wine directly from wineries around the country.
No longer do Montana residents need to obtain a so-called connoisseur’s license in order to receive shipments directly to their home.
The law, passed by the Legislature last spring, allows consumers to purchase up to 18 nine-liter cases per year, directly from eligible wineries.
“I think many Montana consumers felt like they did not have access to the wines the wanted,” said Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, who sponsored HB402.
Hunter, who has wholesale and retail experience in the state, said the old rules put consumers in a tough spot when looking for a wine not carried by Montana retailers.
In addition to applying for a connoisseur license, consumers were also required to regularly report and pay taxes on their purchases. Just more than 180 licenses were ever issued, according to the Department of Revenue.
The new law transfers those administrative duties to wine manufacturers, according to Public Information Officer Mary Ann Dunwell. Wineries interested in shipping to Montana consumers can now apply for direct shipment privileges, she said.
The endorsement fee is $50, and wineries are also charged up to $400 annually based on the quantity shipped.
The law does not apply to shipments from retailers, which are still not permitted in the state.
At least 37 other states already allow direct shipping for personal use, Hunter said. He said moving the regulatory burden onto wineries instead of consumers will ultimately benefit both groups.
He said he doesn’t expect the change will have much impact on local retailers or in-state wineries. “If wine is available locally, that’s where they (consumers) are going to buy it. This just speaks to the wines that aren’t available in the state,” Hunter said.
“Let’s say they’ve traveled to the Napa Valley and found a favorite wine,” he stated in a press release from the Department of Revenue. “Now, Montanans can order that wine conveniently once they’re home.”
Hunter said he spoke with Montana wineries when crafting the legislation, though they did not take a formal position.
Tom Campbell, owner and winemaker at Mission Mountain Winery on Flathead Lake, said direct shipping sales to out-of-state customers makes up less than 5 percent of his business. Mission Mountain is the first and largest of the state’s 18 wineries, with high distribution across the state.
Even so, Mission Mountain has applied for the in-state endorsement, he said. “It provides another service to our Montana customers,” Campbell said.
He added that the law will also make it easier for the winery to work with traveling customers who visit its facility and tasting room.
The Department of Revenue will post a list of licensed and endorsed wineries online in the next few days, according to Shauna Helfert, liquor control division administrator. The list is at
As in the past, shipping carriers will be responsible to ensure the wine is delivered to adults age 21 and older, Dunwell said, and wineries must provide labeling on packages that indicates its alcoholic contents.