By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON -- Former number one draft pick Drew Bledsoe once thrilled New England football fans on the gridiron as the quarterback of the Patriots. Now he just wants to sell them wine.
In his first day as a lobbyist, Bledsoe traveled to Beacon Hill to encourage lawmakers to end the ban on direct shipments of out-of-state wine to Massachusetts consumers.
Since retiring from the NFL, Bledsoe has moved back to Oregon with his family and owns the Doubleback winery in Walla Walla Valley in Washington.
“Quite simply, I’ve got a lot of wine fans and all the football fans that literally contact me on a daily basis asking where they can get the wine, and I have to tell them, ‘Sorry, I can’t ship it to you,’” Bledsoe told reporters outside the State House after spending the morning meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Rep. Theodore Speliotis, a Danvers Democrat and sponsor of a bill to legalize direct wine shipping.
Critics have long raised concerns that direct shipping could make it easier for minors to access alcohol. Distributors have also argued that changing the law would hurt their businesses and that of package stores that sell wine.
Massachusetts is one of 11 states that does not allow out-of-state wineries to ship their products directly to customers in Massachusetts. Bledsoe said the state is the 7th largest wine consumer in the country, and called the bill (H 294) “fair and right” for consumers, wineries, package stores and distributors.
When Bledsoe bottled his first vintage in 2008, his successor on the Patriots, Tom Brady, wanted to purchase some of the wine. Bledsoe set aside the 12th bottle he ever produced for No. 12, and direct shipped it to Brady’s parents in California since he couldn’t send it to Boston. Brady’s father drank it.
“We’d like to be able to take care of our customers out here in Massachusetts,” said Bledsoe, who sells a couple of cases a year in the state through his distributor.
Efforts to legalize direct wine shipments in Massachusetts have been a perennial issue for the Legislature, and Gov. Deval Patrick – himself a bit of a connoisseur – has said he would sign a bill if it reached his desk.
“If Massachusetts falls and becomes the 40th state to allow direct shipping, I think the other states will follow,” Bledsoe said.
Because of shipping costs, Bledsoe said direct shipping is typically reserved for higher-end wines and only 1 percent of all wine sold in the U.S. is direct shipped to consumers. The only study, conducted by the state of Maryland, found a 3 percent increase in wine sales at package stores after lawmakers opened that state for direct shipping, Bledsoe said.
The quarterback said other states have successfully required someone of legal age to sign for wine packages shipped through the mail to address the underage drinking concern. “Ultimately, when you’re talking about fine wine that is not what underage drinkers are looking for,” Bledsoe said.
In addition to the Speliotis bill, which is also supported by Sen. Dan Wolf (D-Harwich), House Minority Leader Brad Jones and others have sponsored similar legislation that Bledsoe says he supports as well.
“Honestly, there are some similarities with playing quarterback to lobbying on the Hill. You got to be very careful of what you say all the time. You got to make sure you’re presenting yourself the right way, and you got to try to be persuasive and get your point across so there are some similarities. Not quite as physical though,” he said.