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Arizona wineries toast bill to allow U.S. Postal Service shipping

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CORNVILLE – Wine lovers David and Judy Berndt traveled from Riverside, Calif., to see what Verde Valley’s wineries have to offer. Arriving at Javelina Leap Winery, they were already impressed with the syrah wines at Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery.

“Their wines are not too tannic, they’re drinkable, they’re left at room temperature and work real well with steaks and pastas,” David said.

The Berndts weren’t ready to rank the Verde Valley up with California’s Napa Valley. But they said some of the wines they’d tasted were comparable, if not better.

In fact, they wouldn’t mind shipping some home.

A bill pending in Congress would reverse a 1909 law prohibiting the U.S. Postal Service from delivering wine and beer. That would be the service on par with private carriers such as UPS and FedEx, which have allowed wineries to ship wine directly to consumers for decades.

David Berndt said the change would make it easier to get wines he liked during his trip here.

“That would be a great idea,” he said. “I would probably join a wine club and have them ship them to me every quarter.”

Senate Bill 1789, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., is intended to help the financially troubled Postal Service. It would allow shipment to consumers as long as it’s consistent with state laws and the addressees are at least 21 years old.

The legislation passed the Senate in April but has yet to be taken up by the House. Wine industry members are anxiously awaiting the outcome.

“We would like to see the bill move in the House and at the same time, we have no idea if it will or it won’t,” said Cary Greene, chief operating officer and general counsel of WineAmerica, a Washington D.C.-based trade association.

By giving wineries more shipping options, the bill would create competition that would benefit consumers through lower costs, Greene said.

“Competition always makes things more efficient,” he said.

Peggy Fiandaca, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association, said the bill would certainly contribute to the state’s already growing wine industry.

“Opening up the avenues for shipping is always a positive thing and helps get our product to our consumers who want our product,” she said. “It’ll make it easier for them.”

Arizona is home to more than 60 wineries, many residing in Verde Valley, Willcox and Sonoita, the state’s major grape-growing regions of higher elevation, rich volcanic soil and hot days with cool nights.

Most Arizona wineries primarily make their sales off customers in their wine tasting rooms, but many are trying to reach out to the rest of the country, Fiandaca said.

Paul Hay, assistant tasting room manager at Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, said approximately 65 percent of Page Springs’ sales come from in-person purchases. But because the winery operates primarily on word-of-mouth advertising, having the Postal Service as a shipping option could give consumers more means to spread the word and ultimately increase traffic to Arizona’s wine regions.

“What we’re doing is a very special thing and it’s hard for everyone to find out about it if they never get a chance to get their wine in the state,” Hay said. “People love wine, they may just not know they like Arizona wine.”