USA: US wine industry braces for internet blow

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Supporters of the US federal crackdown on internet sales of wine are optimistic that Congress will enact this year legislation that would give states new authority to block such interstate shipments.Although the bill on direct-to-consumer sales of spirits and wine has been blocked since March, backers believe it could be in place in as short a time as next month.A spokeswoman for Senator Orrin Hatch, the Judiciary Committee chairman who has championed the initiative for the past two years said: "We are hopeful it is going to be passed this year."A spokesman for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, a lobbying force behind the bill, said: "We are very confident. Senator Hatch has not backed down one iota and he is not a member to be taken lightly. He has assured us it is very high on his agenda."The wine industry now seems resigned to the fact it is to suffer this blow. It had disputed the proposal but dropped opposition after the Senate Judiciary Committee added a provision that narrowed the reach of the bill.Simon Siegl, head of the American Vintners Association said: "We are going to see some massive bills in the next couple of weeks and I think it will go through on one of those."Under the legislation, state officials would have the power to go into federal court to block shipments made illegally into states that ban such transactions. Supporters of the bill claimed the internet was promoting underage drinking. However wine supporters said that wholesalers were merely trying to protect their positions as industry middlemen by voicing this view. The internet, they say, is a marketing tool that allows smaller wine companies to sell their wine, without the use of wholesalers who find the small scale operations unattractive.

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