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Wineries Challenge Minnesota Grape Quota in Federal Court

Two Minnesota wineries are suing their state’s Public Safety Commissioner in federal court over a law requiring them to source 51 percent of their grapes from inside the state. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could set the stage for challenges to home-grown fruit quotas in others states, their attorney told Grape Basin News.

“This is definitely a national issue that affects wineries,” said Meagan Forbes, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents Alexis Bailly Vineyard and the Next Chapter Winery. Twenty other states have similar laws, she said.

Nan Bailly, proprietor at Alexis Bailly Vineyard, Inc., is suing Minnesota’s Commissioner of Public Safety. Photo: @InstituteforJustice

The plaintiffs claim the Minnesota Farm Wineries Act inhibits their right to conduct interstate trade under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The in-state fruit quota means they’re unable to meet consumer demand for blends they would make if they were free to import more out-of-state grapes, and grapes from around the world, the wineries claim.

“They’re both suffering under this restriction,” Forbes told GBN. “Minnesota grapes tend to produce an acidic wine which isn’t suitable for all winemaking purposes,” she said. The requirement for a majority of Minnesota grown grapes severely limits the variety of the wines they can produce.

The Farm Wineries Act is an element of Minnesota winery licensing law. It provides a process for the wineries to apply for an exemption in years when the supply of in-state grapes is limited. The application is filed in the year the exemption is needed.

“This still hinders their ability to plan year after year,” Forbes said. “They just don’t know if it will be granted year after year. So they’re kind of left to the government’s whim.” The law provides no discernible boost to public safety, she said.

The requirement for a majority of ingredients sourced from inside the state is written into Minnesota’s statutory definition of farm winery.

In addition to the commerce clause, the lawsuit also claims the Minnesota statute violates the import-export clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the foreign commerce clause, a parallel clause to the domestic commerce clause. See the complaint here.

Forbes has left the Institute for Justice since a phone interview with GBN, but says the Institute is likely to move for summary judgment soon.

Nevada vintners can produce up to 1,000 cases before its 25 percent grape quota takes effect.

 

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