In the recent past, we've heard grumblings of frustration from management of leading wine e-commerce player Wine.com, over the fact that many wine shops and other merchants were skirting the byzantine laws which govern the distribution and shipment of alcoholic beverages in this country. As the Free the Grapes web site explains, "Despite widespread support for expanding consumer choice in wine, many consumers are still prohibited by state law from purchasing the wines they want directly from wineries and retailers." (A detailed description of the issue, including facts and figures, is available on that site.)
Wine.com management has been frustrated by the fact that while it complies fully with all laws related to wine distribution, flatly refusing orders which would violate regulations, many others are all too willing to fill those orders. To be clear, Wine.com does not support the archaic legal rules (which, if abolished, would open the national market fully), but it does feel the need to abide by them. Given the scrutiny that comes with being the web's largest seller of wine, it would be hard for Wine.com to flout those laws. Meanwhile, other parties are taking the orders that Wine.com steers clear of, shipping wines across state lines with abandon.
Wine.com articulates a reasonable position: why should we have to play by the rules and suffer while others don't? Level playing field and all that. Nonetheless, many of us were surprised and dismayed to see that Wine.com has taken to policing its competition: according to the Vinography wine blog, Wine.com has arranged for illegal wine orders to be placed (for example, having wine sold and shipped to Washington state from another state which is banned from doing so), then turned in its competitors to the government -- by forwarding emailed order confirmations along with a "please bust these guys" letter from its lawyers. This bold move has unleashed the fury of wine-lover nation, which does not want to see it get any harder to have tasty fermented grape juice shipped around the country. The fur is flying in the comments section of the Vinography post, and even Wine.com CEO Rich Bergsund has weighed in to defend his actions. BTW, the Tom Cole you see in those comments is not me! I received a laudatory email from the co-owner of a local wine shop (coincidentally, one where I happen to be a happy customer), because the other Tom Cole excoriates Wine.com in the comments. What can I say, it's a common name.