Huge bottles, kegs and 5-liter boxes: bill mulls repeal of wine container size limits

bottles of wine
Lawmakers are trying again to loosen size restrictions on wine containers.

Imagine your party guests’ faces when you cart out a $5,625, six-liter, Methuselah bottle of Château d’Yquem wine — or when you lug out a $15.99, five-liter box of Franzia Cabernet Sauvignon.

Then imagine their faces when the cops arrive.

Why does Florida law limit wine sales to containers no larger than one gallon, except for reusable kegs or for shipping logistics between manufacturers and distributors?

“It serves no good policy basis to criminalize the sale of wine based on container size,” argued Rep. Chip LaMarca of Lighthouse Point as he pushed a bill (HB 6031) through the House Commerce Committee Wednesday.

In fact, that’s what Florida law does. The sale of wine in any container larger than a gallon — with the exception of reusable containers or for shipping logistics — is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida. A second offense is a felony.

HB 6031 flew through the Commerce Committee Wednesday with no opposition or debate and little discussion, except for some back-and-forth between LaMarca and Committee Chair Blaise Ingoglia over which mega-bottle of wine might be best served with cannoli.

Yet the track for HB 6031 or its Senate counterpart (SB 384) is not likely to remain simple. Similar wine container size repeal bills have been filed for several sessions running. As repeal bills, they cannot be amended, only voted up or down. So previous efforts all died as the complex regulation and sometimes competing needs of the spirits manufacturing, bottling, distribution, wholesaling and retailing sectors eventually weighed in.

The bills’ aura comes from the prospect of exotic, huge bottles of wine coming to Florida, such as those known as the Methuselah or the Imperial (six liters), the Balthazar (12 liters) and the Nebuchadnezzar (15 liters). A standard bottle of wine is three-quarters of a liter, or 750 milliliters. They’re all sold worldwide. Up to 17 liters, they’re all legal under federal law, and in many states. But not in Florida.

Yet such mega-bottles are pretty rare, produced only by a handful of bottlers for a handful of wines. And they’re usually pretty expensive. The demand wouldn’t appear great enough to spur legislation four or five years running in Florida.

“These are kind of collectors’ showpiece-type sizes,” said Michael Kaiser, vice president for government affairs at the National Association of American Wineries.

Not so rare or expensive are the larger wine boxes, including the five-liter wine box, which can lay nicely across a refrigerator shelf, and which would become legal in Florida under HB 6031.

Also in play are wine bar-style tappable containers. Reusable containers of up to 5.16 gallons — essentially sixth-barrel kegs — are legal now. The bills could open the way to other, larger kinds of tappable containers, including those made of recyclable or disposable materials, instead of aluminum.

“These are not new things,” Kaiser said of the larger containers.

Lately, there may be a federal impetus for Florida to act.

“One of the things that could be a reason behind this is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. In the last few years, they have talked about possibly eliminating these standards of fill, liberalizing what’s allowed,” Kaiser said.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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