A judge ruled that Minnesota farm wineries can use grapes grown outside of Minnesota, giving local farm wineries more flexibility in the wine they make.
U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright ruled Monday that Minnesota's Farm Wineries Act of 1980 is unconstitutional because it is a barrier to interstate commerce that favors Minnesota's economic interests over those of other states.
Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings and Next Chapter Winery in New Prague filed a lawsuit against Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington in 2017, claiming the Farm Wineries Act prevented them from producing a variety of wines that consumers want to drink.
The act required wineries licensed as farm wineries to use a majority (51%) of fruit grown in Minnesota in their products if they wanted to sell directly to the consumer, like in a tasting room. Wine manufacturers who sell their wine to wholesalers and not direct to the consumer don't have this restriction.
This marks a huge win for farm wineries in Minnesota, who are now free to make the wines they want to make, instead of wines determined by what grapes can survive in Minnesota's harsh winters.
The ruling, according to Anthony Sanders of Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, allows farm wineries to purchase their supplies from wherever they want "without that arbitrary distinction."
"When we heard about this law and heard about how wineries are kind of stuck in this rut where they don't have to grow grapes themselves, but they have to get it from inside the state of Minnesota, and that that was inhibiting growth of the wine industry in Minnesota, we thought that it was time to take action," Sanders said.
Sanders noted that the ruling could be a boon for local farm wineries because it makes it easier to make wines and sell them directly to the consumer.
It could potentially increase the number of other wineries and cideries in the state as well. According to Sanders, there's another winery license in Minnesota – a wine manufacturer license – that has a similar law that requires wine makers and many cider makers that want to sell directly to consumers to use a majority of fruit grown in Minnesota. The judge's ruling does not directly impact these licensees, but the state could choose to ignore these regulations or could face a lawsuit in the future.
"What that will do is allow for more experimentation in urban markets of say wine bars or cideries similar to what we've seen in breweries in recent years in Minnesota – the explosion of taprooms," Sanders said. "And that is something to really watch because while we could have a growth in farm wineries like our clients, we could also have a big growth in wine bars and cideries in urban enviornemnts, and that's really exciting."
Sanders noted some other states have similar laws as the Farm Wineries Act (Wisconsin and Iowa don't, and they have more wineries than Minnesota does), and he's "hopeful" the ruling in Minnesota will be a "warning to those states that they need to shape up and follow the dictates of the constitution, which protects our right to buy and sell without regard to state boundaries."
BMTN has reached out to the Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Grape Growers Association for comment.