This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's no secret that Utahns sometimes subvert state law to bring liquor into the state.
From smuggling foreign spirits in suitcases to shipping cases to Evanston, Wyo., they've tried it all.
The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control insists such covert operations - in addition to being illegal - are unnecessary. Under Utah law, consumers may special order wine, liquor or heavy beer that isn't one of the 4,000-plus offerings on the state's listing, says John Freeman, DABC operations director.
However, The Tribune found that for the average consumer, the special order process isn't as easy - or quick - as the DABC suggests. The paperwork can be confusing, the process can be expensive - consumers must order a whole case - and the wait can sometimes be long. Really long.
The Tribune ordered a case of zinfandel from Quivira winery in Sonoma, Calif., on Nov. 29, 2007. It finally arrived in Utah five months later on May 2.
Ordering. I tasted Quivera's highly-rated 2004 Zinfandel during a 2007 trip to California. When I returned, I went to the wine store in Salt Lake City looking for a bottle.
Employees at the store were familiar with Quivera, but said the state had not carried its wines for several years. If I wanted the Zinfandel, it had to be special ordered.
I could fill out a form at the store or online at the DABC Web site. Either way, the process would take several weeks by the time the state got my order, verified that the wine was available and could set up shipping, the employee said.
I decided to go online using my real name, my home address and a personal cell phone number. After filling in that basic information, I hit a snag. I needed the name of the vendor. How was I supposed to know that?
I called the DABC's main number and was told that since I was ordering an American - or domestic - wine, I needed only the winery name on my order. If I had wanted something shipped from a foreign country, I would need the name of the vendor or broker.
The order also asked for a day I needed my wine. The form said to allow at least four weeks, so getting the wine before Christmas was a gamble. I put a date during the first week of January. (There was a 40th birthday coming up in the family and it would make a great beverage for the party.)
Waiting. Christmas day came and went. So did New Year's, the 40th birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. day and Super Bowl Sunday. Still no word about my order.
On Feb. 4, I called the special order desk. Penny Hulse answered the phone. She couldn't find my order. She would need to call me back.
Hulse handles all the special orders for the DABC, among other duties. Last year, that included about 2,760 cases of wine and 4,000 cases of beer, said her boss Tom Zdunichcq, DABC purchasing director. About half the special orders come from restaurants and private clubs, many for the Sundance Film Festival and other large events. The remaining orders come from individuals.
About an hour later, Hulse called back to say my order had not yet been placed because the winery had never returned her call. The news was maddening and Hulse could tell I was frustrated. She offered to contact the vineyard again.
She called back later that same day with good and bad news. She had reached the winery, but it was sold out of its 2004 vintage. I was happy to get the 2005. It would cost me $18.67 a bottle or $224.04 plus tax for the case, she said. "Hopefully it will be on a truck within the week."
March 1 came and the wine had not yet arrived. The Tribune decided to order a second case - 2007 Navarro Chenin Blanc - also from California, to find out if my situation was unique. This time we used my colleague's real name, home address and personal cell phone.
To make a long story, short, on May 1, after two months of telephone calls, voice messages and e-mails, the DABC told editor Lesli Neilson that Navarro will not sell its products to Utah wholesale.
The Tribune had more persistence than Kate Anderson, who never made it past the ordering phase. Last October, the Salt Lake City resident enjoyed a French chardonnay at a Utah restaurant. A few weeks later, she went to the wine store to get a bottle to enjoy at home and it was unavailable.
"The employee at the store was helpful. He told me to go online and place my order," she said.
The order was returned, however, because it lacked the name of the wine's distributor. Anderson responded saying the state should have that information because the wine was available just a few months before.
"They never responded so I just didn't want to bother anymore," Anderson said.
"I don't think the average customer is going to know a distiller or a distributor unless they keep the bottle. And who does that?" she said. "Basically, I don't think the state wants you to get wine from anyone but them."
Zdunich, with the DABC, admits the system is not perfect.
"We do get complaints," he said. "But for the most part we try and bring in whatever customers ask for within a reasonable time."
Better luck. Jim Murrin of Park City, had a better experience. Last summer, he special ordered from a California producer that already was shipping wine to the state, just not the kind he wanted. It arrived in about three weeks.
"It was easy," he said. "The only surprise was that I didn't realize I was ordering a whole case. I really only wanted two bottles and I got 12."
I wasn't as lucky. By April 1, I had nearly given up on the wine order. But I happened to be cleaning my junk e-mail file when a message from the DABC with "Quivera" in the subject line caught my eye.
"I'm still working on it," said the e-mail from Hulse. "I can't get anybody to bring the product. You just have one case. Shipping folks like to have a full truckload."
In the era of same-day and overnight shipping, the response seemed like a bad April Fool's joke.
"One of the big concerns with special orders, is that most of those items come from small distributors," explained Zdunich later. "Many times the vintage people want is wiped out and you have to wait for new vintages."
Occasionally, as in my case, the companies don't want to mess with shipping one case, he said.
One month later - May 2 - my cell phone rang and it was the manager of my neighborhood liquor store. "Your wine is in and you can come pick it up," he said.
"Thanks," I said excitedly. As I push the "end call" button, I understand why people drive to Wyoming.
State law allows consumers to special order wine, spirits and heavy beer that are unavailable. Here are some tips:
Two ways to order. Consumers can either fill out a form at the liquor store or go online to the DABC Web site at: http://www.alcbev.state.ut.us. Click on the "online service" link. Then "consumer services." Online is the most convenient method, but filling out the form at the store will allow employees to answer your questions immediately.
Keep the label. If you have a wine while on vacation that you think you might want to order, keep the bottle or the label. Having as much information about the wine, spirit or liquor will make the special order process go more smoothly. At the very least, get the name, winery or distillery where it is produced, the vintage (year it's made) and the name of the U.S. distributor, vendor or importer.
Save up. The state allows consumers to special order but you must order at least a case - 12 bottles. If you are in a big hurry - and have the money - you also can pay additional shipping costs to get the product into the state quicker.
Have patience: The state received 4,650 special orders last year. They are all handled by one employee. Sometimes vintages sell out and you must wait for the next one to be released. Other times shipping companies wait until they have a full truckload before shipping to Utah.