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Mass. legislators back Net wine sales

Taking cue from Supreme Court decision, commonwealth legislators move to allow online purchases from small out-of-state wineries.

Massachusetts wine lovers would be able to buy goods directly from out-of-state virtual vineyards under a bill that received initial approval from commonwealth legislators.

The measure, approved on Monday by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, reflects a close U.S. Supreme Court decision on the topic in May.

The high court's ruling struck down protectionist laws in Michigan and New York that allowed only in-state wineries to ship directly to customers. A thin majority held that states could not justify such measures on the grounds that out-of-state companies were possibly evading taxes or that the process could promote underage drinking.

Massachusetts is among the 24 states that had such laws on their books when the high-court ruling emerged and were forced to make revisions. Wine aficionados have hailed the ruling as a route to greater variety and lower prices than retailers could offer.

The House bill, however, would not allow all out-of-state companies to ship directly to customers. It would relegate that privilege to small wineries, defined as those that produce no more than 50,000 gallons per year. Larger operations would continue to do their business through wholesalers.

The legislators also baked in new requirements designed to address concerns over underage customers.

"The package would be clearly marked that it contains alcohol, which presently is not the case," said Donald Jordan, research director for the House committee that sponsored the bill.

The package would also have to contain a special seal stating that the winery bears state certification to ship directly to customers. The delivery person would also be required to check the customer's age on a driver's license or state identification card before handing over any parcels.

Before taking effect, the bill must receive approval from the state Senate--which could happen as early as Tuesday, Jordan predicted--and the governor's signature.