Judge allows Minnesota wineries to use out-of-state grapes

Bottles of wine and wine glasses
Wines from the Next Chapter Winery, of New Prague, Minn., and Alexis Bailly Vineyard, of Hastings, Minn., are displayed at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis in March 2017.
Steve Karnowski | AP Photo 2017

A federal judge has struck down a Minnesota law that required wineries in the frosty state to use mostly Minnesota-grown grapes, in a ruling that could have implications for other cold-climate wine-producing states.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright ruled Monday that the state Farm Wineries Act of 1980 posed an unconstitutional and unjustified barrier to interstate commerce that favored Minnesota's economic interests over those of other states. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the ruling has major implications across the country, given that over a dozen states have similar laws, including New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

“This is a huge win for the future of the wine industry and small wineries in Minnesota,” Nan Bailly, owner of Alexis Bailly Vineyard, said in a statement. “We are finally free to make the wines we want to make, not the wine dictated by the state legislature.”

The Minnesota wineries that filed the lawsuit in 2017 said grape varieties that can grow in harsh northern climates often produce wines that are too acidic for most consumers, so wineries will blend in wine or juice from grapes grown elsewhere to improve the taste. They said the state law that required them to use a majority of Minnesota grapes handicapped them from producing a broader variety of wines that consumers might want.

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Lawyers for the state argued that the law furthered Minnesota's legitimate interest in promoting wine agrotourism. But Wright wrote that the state made “no effort even to suggest” that it had “no reasonable nondiscriminatory alternative.”

Minnesota wineries draw in tourists with their tasting rooms but also often double as event centers for weddings and other big gatherings.

The wineries were represented by the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which advocates for economic liberty and property rights.

Anthony Sanders, an attorney for the group, called the ruling a vindication for the “founding ideal of free trade.” The group said other states with similar laws may now face challenges to their restrictions.