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Live Free and Drink Wine in New Hampshire

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
There are more than 7,700 wineries in the United States. Production is at record levels. Prices are skyrocketing, too: As of 2013, the average bottle cost $10.85, up from $9 the previous year.

The debate over which state produces the best wine will never end ­— California, home to nearly half the wineries in the United States? Oregon, with its pinot noirs, or Washington, with its cabernets? But there’s no better state to be a wine drinker, based on price, availability and lenient regulations, than New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is one of six states that scored an A+ on the American Wine Consumer Coalition’s 2013 report card for its liberal regulations. Consumers in those states can have wine shipped to their homes through the mail, bring their favorite bottles to restaurants, and buy wine in specialty shops or grocery stores.

What sets New Hampshire apart from the other top-performing states, however, is its tax regime. It’s the only one of those top-performing states that doesn’t levy a tax on wine. California levies an excise tax on wine at a relatively puny 20 cents per gallon. The District of Columbia, for example, piles $1.61 per gallon onto the list price.

New Hampshire is one of six states, along with Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming, where the government runs its own liquor stores. But unlike those other states, where government monopoly is a vestige of prohibition, New Hampshire’s state-run liquor stores are more aggressive in their marketing. They advertise near the state’s border with Massachusetts, luring customers north to buy booze.

As a result, the Granite State sells 19.6 liters of wine per capita each year, the highest rate of any state. Californians, by contrast, consume 14 liters per capita.

On the other end of the spectrum, Southern and Midwestern states are relative wine deserts. West Virginians and Mississippians drink less than three liters per capita annually, while Kentucky residents have to shell out an additional $3.56 per gallon in excise taxes, the highest rate in the nation. Kentucky’s regulations favor the local bourbon industry. (Vermont received a C grade, in the middle of the pack. The wine coalition said it lowered Vermont’s score because it prohibits shipments of wine from retailers directly to consumers, “severely limiting their access to imported and rare wines.” Vermont also “only allows wine lovers to bring a bottle of wine from their own collection into a restaurant if that restaurant does not possess a liquor license.”)

Experts may argue over which state grows the best grapes, but there’s no debate for consumers: Your best place to live free and sip is New Hampshire.

Reid Wilson is the author of Read In, The Washington Post’s tipsheet on politics.

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