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Nan Bailly
Plaintiff Nan Bailly at her winery in Hastings. (Photo: J. Justin Wilson, Institute for Justice)

Bar Buzz: Federal judge’s ruling has wineries abuzz

A federal judge has struck down a Minnesota law that prohibited winemakers from producing wine unless the majority of their ingredients were Gopher State-grown or produced.

U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright granted summary judgment to two Minnesota wineries, Alexis Bailly Vineyard Inc., and The Next Chapter Winery LLC, in overturning the Minnesota Farm Wineries Act.

According to the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that represented the plaintiffs, the ruling changes a law that made it “nearly impossible” for Minnesota’s burgeoning wine industry to make wines that people might actually want to drink.

OK, full confession: They were nicer than that. The firm actually said the ruling makes it possible to make the kinds of wines “that consumers are accustomed to drinking.”

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

The suit named Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington as respondent.

Winery owners contended that they could not consistently obtain needed ingredients if 51% of them had to originate in Minnesota. Although DPS never denied the wineries any requested exemptions to the requirements, both asserted the law affected their planning and production, including their hopes to expand operations.

“Plaintiffs want to produce more wine varieties, use higher-quality and lower-cost ingredients that are more reliably available from other states and countries, and increase the volume of wine they produce,” Wright states in her Aug. 31 ruling.

Now, it would seem, they will get to do that. Wright’s ruling declares the state’s law “facially unconstitutional as a violation of the interstate dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The ruling is the first to find such a law unconstitutional, according to the Institute for Justice. Lawyers there expect it will affect other states that have similarly “protectionist barriers” — New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois among them.

“The U.S. Constitution was crafted to guarantee free trade among the states,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Anthony Sanders. “Minnesota violated this founding ideal by restricting the grapes that wineries can purchase from other states. This is a vindication of our client’s rights and also of that founding ideal of free trade.”

The ruling permanently enjoins Harrington’s department form enforcing the law.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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