Let Wine Flow Freely

November 15, 2005
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DETROIT — Based on new developments in the ongoing saga of direct shipment of wine, it appears that wineries across the country will now have equal access to Michigan consumers. But whether that means open access, restricted access or no access at all will hinge upon the decisions of the state legislature.

Echoing a recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled last week in favor of a couple from the Detroit suburb of Troy. The lawsuit challenged a law that prohibited winemakers outside of Michigan from shipping their products to residents of this state.

Under the law, Michigan wineries were able to ship wine directly to retail customers, whereas their out-of-state counterparts were compelled to distribute their products through Michigan wholesalers. That discrimination, according to the Supreme Court, violated the U.S.

Constitution’s commerce clause. Friedman agreed in his ruling.

But that decision simply reinforced the fact that it was illegal for the state to discriminate against out-of-state wineries. The decision did not open Michigan’s doors to an unrestricted flow of fermented grape products. How to regulate direct wine sales — or whether to eliminate them entirely — will now be up to the elected officials in Lansing to decide.

Sen. Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau, introduced legislation earlier this year that would effect a compromise between Michigan’s wholesalers and wineries (many of which are located within her 35th District). Senate Bill 625, introduced by McManus along with senators Gilda Jacobs, D-Huntington Woods, Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, and Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, “allows for the direct shipment of wine to retail customers and provides for regulations of certain direct shippers.”

In essence, the bill would require registration and strict bookkeeping by any winery shipping to Michigan consumers. It has provisions dealing with age verification and the penalties for selling alcohol to minors. It also sets a limit of 24 cases (of no more than nine liters each in volume) as the maximum a winery can sell to a retail customer in a given year. Those customers can include restaurants and other retailers, as was the case for Michigan wineries under the law deemed discriminatory.

Veronica LaDuke, communications director for McManus, said that the senator is waiting to obtain an actual copy of Friedman’s ruling. There may be revisions to the proposed legislation based upon the fine points of the decision.

Similar legislation has been promoted in the state House, though with more restrictive language.

But it is not nearly as restrictive as Senate Bill 600, introduced in June by Sen. Robert Emerson, D-Flint. That bill would entirely outlaw wineries’ ability to ship directly to consumers. That is the stance also taken by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.    

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