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Wineries sue state of Virginia over direct shipping prohibition.

Wineries from three states have joined the Coalition for Free Trade (CFT) in filing a lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of Virginia's laws prohibiting consumers from buying and receiving wine direct from out-of-state companies.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, VA, the suit named as defendants the director and commissioners of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. In the suit, consumer plaintiffs complain that they were unable to purchase wines from vineyards in California, Oregon and Texas.

Plaintiff's attorney Matthew Hale said, "This is a clear violation of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and deprives adults of their right to purchase from the supplier of their choice."

Industry analyst Mark H. Rodman of Beverage Distribution Consultants of Swampscott, MA, said that a favorable ruling on this suit could have broad effects, up to and including a comprehensive remake of state regulations.

"This new lawsuit is the frontal attack on the 21st Amendment and the protectionist use of state police power that I've been forecasting continually for the last five years," Rodman says. "Utah vs. Ameroso, Florida v. Sam's Wine & Liquors and Florida v. Zachy's Wine & Liquor are sideshows by comparison."

According to Rodman, the action against Virginia was foreshadowed by the Supreme Court opinion in 1989 in Beer Institute v. Healy (The Connecticut adjoining states price affirmation case) and last year's Pete's Brewing Co. v. Whitehead (The Missouri small brewer label case). "Those opinions made crystal clear that state regulation of sale of intoxicating beverages is not 'practically limitless'," Rodman says.

"I've been called a madman with a paranoid imagination," Rodman concedes, "but to place this in context I share an observation from a recent book review. 'There have been times and cultures in which madmen, although shunned, were treated with religious respect, since they might also be bearers of prophecy'."

His credentials established, Mr. Rodman offers a further prophecy:

"For constitutional purposes in a test of state regulatory measures under the 14th Amendment's extension to state governments of obligations of due process and equal protection, there's no meaningful or recognized distinction between spirits, wine and beer," Rodman says, citing ABC Liquors v. Winston Wayne, FL 1st DCA 1972, finding no basis for the state to impose different credit terms on purchases of the three alcoholic beverages].

Rodman continues: "Neither is there a relevant, persuasive and overriding legal distinction between state bans against direct sales to its consumer citizens and state bans of direct sale to citizens who happen to be either Ma & Pa retailers, or giant mass merchandisers, perhaps with headquarters in Bentonville, AR, Kirkland, WA or Holland or Belgium. Oh my, there goes the neighborhood!"
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 22, 1999
Words:442
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