US winemakers have hit back at the country's wholesalers who accused the winemaking industry of potentially encouraging underage drinking in the battle over direct-to-consumer shipping of wine.

The Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America last week attacked efforts by winemakers to liberalise the system by launching a campaign called, "Point, Click, Drink", which referred to what they see as the ease with which young drinkers would be able to buy wine over the internet if direct shipping were allowed.

However, winemakers hit back yesterday with their own campaign, "Point, Click, Think".

"Wine wholesaler middlemen are continuing to promote tired arguments against direct-to-consumer wine shipping, all of which have been refuted by state alcohol regulators, the Federal Trade Commission, and actual experience in the states that allow interstate shipments, a statement from a national coalition of 1,500 wineries and 300,000 consumers called Free the Grapes, said.
 
"Despite this evidence, and the growing base of support for legal, regulated director shipping, the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of America have launched a desperate attack on America's wine lovers and 3,000 wineries," said Jeremy Benson, executive director of Free the Grapes.
 
"The wholesalers' cynical campaign, called point, click, drink, is intended to dupe the press and to deflect attention from the wholesalers' real intent: to strengthen their state-sanctioned monopolies in wine distribution. Enough rhetoric. We say, point, click, think," said Benson.

"Today we're launching a website that specifically, and honestly, addresses the underage access topic. We encourage all interested parties to review the facts at www.pointclickthink.com."

In a statement, Free the Grapes! said that no state has ever repealed pro direct shipping legislation based on underage access. No winery or retailer has ever been prosecuted under the wholesaler-supported 21st Amendment Enforcement Act, which allows states to prosecute out-of-state wineries in federal court for breaking their laws.
"WSWA does not oppose intra-state direct shipments to consumers, which are legal in 39 states. They are only opposed to interstate shipments, which are legal in 26 states, because these shipments bypass them," the statement added.

It also pointed out that the Federal Trade Commission's 2003 survey of regulators in 11 legal direct shipping states found "no evidence suggesting direct shipping increases underage access" and that "state bans on direct shipping prevent consumers from saving as much as 21% on some wines and from conveniently purchasing many popular wines from suppliers around the country".