Wacky Wine Laws

Wednesday, 14 January, 2004
Christine Green & Jos Baker
The heights (and depths) of nonsense
The world of wine is a fascinating, albeit a strange, one especially if you read through some of the historical pieces of legislation in which our predecessors sought to sanction.

For example, did you know that in the city of New York there is a law in which private wine collectors are banned from selling bottles to fellow private collectors unless they should, perchance hold a retailers licence; and that in the state of Colorado selling half bottles of wine is regarded as illegal? Even worse, in the state of Kentucky legislation was passed whereby sending a bottle of wine or even spirits to a friend as a gift could well incur a prison sentence of up to 5 years for the donor.

It must have been a member of the male sex who sanctioned the piece of ridiculous legislation found in the legal archives of Wyoming, whereby women were banned from standing within five feet of a bar, but there is one consolation in the state of Pennsylvania legislators initiated that no man may purchase alcohol without written consent from his wife – sounds more like it!

But if you think they sound rather wacky prepare for what follows: whatever the circumstances in the state of Tennessee state law decrees that it is illegal to dare a child to purchase a beer and Utah state officials decided to pass a law banning the sale of beverages containing more than 3.2% of alcohol.

Some laws have been designed to fit in with certain dates in the calendar - one such case in the state of Oklahoma where no wine may be sold on the following: Labour Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Memorial Day; and then there is the Sabbath where in Connecticut you cannot buy any alcohol after 8pm on Sundays.

Before leaving the shores of America this one must be the most confusing piece of legislation ever presented – Beer may not be purchased after midnight on a Sunday but it may be purchased on a Monday, so in reality that means it would be acceptable at one minute past midnight on Sunday to dash out and buy some alcohol in Houston – perhaps the person who wrote the law had one drink too many!

In all fairness it isn’t only in America where such bizarre drinking laws exist: in Finland you have no right to drink alcohol in public places but it seems you have a right to be drunk in public!

Meanwhile in certain Russian capital cities legislation prevails that you are not legally drunk until you can no longer stand up with or without someone supporting you. And if you are watching exotic dancers in some nightclub in Saskatchewan Canada, you are advised to stick with the orange juice because drinking alcohol is banned.

Jos Baker adds: South African liquor laws were repressive rather than quirky. Tomes such as the 4,5cm-thick Liquor Act No 30 of 1928, are rampantly discriminatory – both against women and people of colour.

The legalese of the Act is mind-boggling: before a liquor licence (or renewal) could be granted, ‘the competent authority shall satisfy itself or himself that the premises afford, or when completed will afford, suitable and satisfactory accommodation for all purposes to which they may lawfully, in terms of the licence, be put.’

Women were barred entry to public bars. They could order drinks in hotel or club lounges – if they had permission. To permit ‘any female or any person under the age of eighteen years to be at any time in any restricted portion of his licensed premises’ the holder of an on-consumption licence had to lodge a special application with the Minister of Justice. This applied both to patrons and barmaids.

The first ‘ladies’ bars’ appeared in the 1960s, but no drinks could be poured in front of the ‘ladies’. Orders were taken and barmen disappeared behind a screen to return with filled glasses.

As late as August 19, 1977, Adrianus Pieter Barend Rijks, Licence Holder and Manager of Alphen Hotel in Constantia made application ‘for authority to exercise the following special privileges’, including the authority to allow females into the ladies’ bar of the ground floor of the Alphen homestead.

Times and days of liquor delivery or sale were strictly demarcated (no deliveries before 9am, no sales after 10pm and never on a Sunday.) Holders of restaurant liquor licences could sell liquor ‘on all days … to any person bona fide taking, or about to take, an ordinary meal in the restaurant, which has been purchased thereat and for consumption with or immediately before.’ What about that post-prandial brandy?

Well we did warn you, the world of wine is a fascinating if not slightly wacky one – but never ever dull!

By Christine Green
South African additions by Jos Baker