If you’re looking for a Cabernet, Tempranillo or Malbec at your favorite Minnesota farm winery, chances are you won’t find one. And it’s not Minnesota’s harsh winters that are to blame. It’s Minnesota’s harsh regulatory environment.
Unlike craft brewers — who are free to import a variety of hops and barley from anywhere they please — Minnesota farm wineries are legally required to make wine with a majority of Minnesota grapes. This law props up the state’s grape industry at the expense of farm wineries, wine drinkers and our state’s economy.
It’s time to set our farm wineries free.
The rise in Minnesota farm wineries has closely corresponded to the availability of Northern grape varieties — the only grapes that can grow in the state’s cold climate. Farm wineries, however, are not required to grow their own grapes, and many struggle to grow even these Northern varieties in Minnesota. Yet, when farm wineries turn to other growers to purchase additional grapes, the law forces them to buy from Minnesota growers.
Minnesota-grown grapes, however, produce only a limited variety of wines and do not suit all winemaking needs. These grapes tend to produce an acidic wine and often need to be blended with grapes from other states to achieve a palatable balance. These grapes also cannot produce many wines that consumers have grown accustomed to enjoying and expect. And a winery specializing in wines grown from non-Minnesota grapes, such as a Malbec, is out of the question.
Thus, the state cripples farm wineries’ ability to access the ingredients they need to blend and make the broad variety of wines their customers want.
Take Alexis Bailly Vineyard, for example. It is the oldest farm winery in the state and has suffered under this restriction for decades. Its owner, Nan Bailly, has been making award-winning Minnesota wines for years. Nan enjoys blending her Minnesota grapes with grapes from other regions to make quality wines that are local but more flavorful. Her customers value Minnesota wines, but they also value diversity, which she cannot provide under the state’s restriction — and thus the state is preventing her from growing her business.
And it’s not just Alexis Bailly Vineyard. Farm wineries across Minnesota are prevented from growing their businesses because the government is blocking their ability to buy grapes from other states.
Minnesota shouldn’t be boxing farm wineries in with this kind of protectionist law. That is why Alexis Bailly Vineyard and another farm winery, Next Chapter Winery, have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s winemaking restriction under the U.S. Constitution. Their suit asks a simple question: Why can’t Minnesota farm wineries make wines with grapes from other states?
Minnesota’s trade restriction runs deeply counter to the commerce protections in the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free trade among the states. Indeed, one of the primary goals of the Constitution was to forbid this type of protectionist restraint on free trade — and to ensure that Americans enjoy the benefits of economic freedom, including greater consumer choice and lower costs.
A victory for these farm wineries will help protect economic opportunity for everyone. We’ve already seen the good that can come from reducing protectionist restrictions with craft breweries. After the state relaxed its regulations for craft breweries to permit taprooms, the craft brewing sector exploded. They now contribute more than a billion dollars to the state’s economy.
While wine may get better with age, Minnesota’s protectionism surely does not. Let’s lift these unnecessary restrictions and unleash the passion, creativity and energy of our Minnesota vintners.
Meagan Forbes is an attorney at the Institute for Justice’s Minnesota office, which represents Alexis Bailly Vineyard and Next Chapter Winery in their case.