Sunday, April 18, 2010

Michigan's Black Star Winery Loses Court Challenge: Arizonans Can Carry Concealed Weapons But Not Arcturos Pinot Noir

ArizonaImage via Wikipedia
It can be a buzz-kill. You fall in love with a small artisan winery and go online to order a few bottles. Then the dreaded notice: "We only ship to the following states..." Despite widespread support for legal, regulated direct-to-consumer wine shipments by the U.S. Supreme Court, Federal Trade Commission and state alcohol regulators, consumers in 13 states are still prohibited by state law from doing so.

At the recent License to Steal national wine marketing conference in Geneva I sampled a very nice 2006 Arcturos Pinot Noir from Black Star Farms winery in Suttons Bay, Michigan, so they were fresh on my mind when a bulletin arrived at the Toledo Wines and Vines news department (OK, it's actually just me and I read it online...).

In a decision announced on April 13, the 9th Circuit Court ruled against Black Star Farms, who had sued the state liquor control board saying that shipping regulations unfairly favored in-state wineries. All wine in AZ must go through the three-tier system of producer, wholesaler and then retailer (being marked up all the way) with a couple narrow exceptions: wineries that produce less than 20,000 gallons of wine a year can ship directly to consumers; and all wineries can ship two cases of wine per year directly to consumers who buy wine at the winery.

Arizona wine drinkers, fighting the good fight, have said that is is impractical economically and unfeasible to travel to Napa, Washington, Michigan or other cool wine destinations to visit wineries to have the wine shipped home. Black Star produced about 35,000 gallons of wine in 2006 -- too big for the small winery exemption but too small to attract wholesalers in places like Arizona.

The court ruled that Black Star failed to show discrimination. "In other words, prove it, or lose it," Judge Stephen Trott wrote in the decision. "When challenged in its briefs to do so, Black Star Farms' answer in its reply brief effectively is, we don't have to, it should be obvious. "Based upon precedent and logic, we disagree."

So, while I am digesting this rather disagreeable bit of news, I pick up the paper Saturday and read that Arizona Governon Jan Brewer signed into law a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

Outrageous! Perhaps if Arizona residents could get a nice bottle of Black Star wine they wouldn't need to pack heat.

Free the Grapes is a coalition of consumers and wineries working to remove restrictions in states that prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from out-of-state wineries. Check them out for information about this important issue and what you can do. You can also get further details on the direct shipping issue via a great post on Wine Curmudgeon.

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