Lawsuit challenges Mass. ban on some wine shipments

Legal News Line Jul. 16, 2008, 1:00am

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California winemakers will take its opposition of laws blocking some wineries from shipping directly to Massachusetts consumers to U.S. District Court later this month.

Arguments in a lawsuit filed by Family Winemakers of California will be heard July 29.

Family Winemakers of California filed suit in 2006 against the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, against a law enacted that same year the limits direct wine sales in the state to vineyards that produce less than 30,000 gallons of wine a year and those that haven't used a wholesaler in the last six months.

The Massachusetts attorney general's office denies the law discriminates based on production size of a winery.

In previous motions filed with the court, the attorney general's office contends that similar laws in Maine, Kentucky and Arizona were upheld in court, and that 89 percent of all wineries are eligible for a permit to sell and that wineries should be forced to choose between direct selling and wholesale shipping to the state.

In its response brief, Family Winemakers of California challenged the state's assertions and legal precedent for how relevant state law should be fairly applied.

"Small producers have proven to the court (this) Massachusetts law harms interstate commerce by excluding 98 percent of all wine made in America from direct sales and suppresses consumer choice," said Paul Kronenberg, FWC President, in a recent press release.

"Out-of-state producers making more than 30,000 gallons of wine shouldn't be forced to choose between selling directly to consumers or selling only through the wholesale channel," he said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney vetoed the legislation in 2006 saying the law would have a negative effect on the consumer. The Republican governor's veto was overridden by the state Legislature.

Kronenberg of the Family Winemakers of California said the lawsuit is a straight-forward appeal for a level playing field in the marketplace.

"Wineries want the court to invalidate key sections of Massachusetts law and level up so that all producers, regardless of size, can compete in the Massachusetts market on their terms," he said.

Wineries across the country have become increasingly vocal in opposing state by state laws that restrict direct shipping.

Georgia recently removed several restrictions on its laws, while a push to pass a direct shipping bill that would add restrictions in Florida failed to pass the Legislature.

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