Winemaking

What does it take to be Minnesota-made?

Owners of two Minnesota wineries have appealed last year’s dismissal by a federal judge of their suit that challenged a Minnesota law that limits their feedstock to mostly Minnesota-grown grapes. In 2017, Alexis Bailly Vineyard and Next Chapter Winery challenged Minnesota’s “unusual and severe winemaking restriction” as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.

In dismissing the case last year, a federal judge suggested the wineries could obtain another type of state license. The wine manufacturers appealed the decision to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals because the alternative license is more expensive and also puts limits on the source of their grapes.

The Minnesota law protects its small growers from competition, according to the appeal. Northern grape varieties capable of surviving Minnesota winters are often too acidic and need to be blended with grapes from elsewhere to make wines familiar to most consumers, the suit contends.

Winemakers Nan Bailly and Timothy Tulloch of Alexis Bailly Vineyard and Next Chapter Winery, respectively, said they struggle to gather enough Minnesota grapes to meet customer demand. Their suit noted that Minnesota doesn’t place the same ingredient-restrictions on local beer or spirit makers.

Minnesota is one of a dozen states where small, homegrown wines must use mostly local grapes to claim they are Minnesota-made. The Institute for Justice, a group that litigates civil and business rights cases, said most of the state’s 60 small grape growers don’t support the lawsuit because the law protects their business. Bailly and Next Chapter are “farm wineries” that can produce their own wine, sell online, and provide free samples to visitors.

In some years, when Bailly said she hasn’t been able to grow or buy sufficient Minnesota grapes, she was granted an exemption to buy grapes from California and New York. The vineyard blended and sold greater wine varieties that became popular with customers and showed “what she could do if given an open book to produce wine,” she told the Star Tribune in 2017.

Tami Bredeson, owner of Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria and board member of the Minnesota Farm Winery Association, declined to be a part of the 2017 lawsuit. She said in 2017: “It’s difficult to grow a Minnesota wine industry without using Minnesota grapes.”

Minnesota’s cold-hardy vineyards and wineries generate up to $150 million annually in economic activity, and the business is growing at a 20 percent-plus annual rate, based on a 2016 study by the University of Minnesota Extension and Minnesota Grape Growers Association.

Neal St. Anthony

medical devices

Abbott Labs gets FDA OK for heart device

Abbott Laboratories is celebrating an announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that greatly expands the potential market for one of the company’s most promising heart devices — a $25,000 minimally invasive device used to treat mitral regurgitation.

Illinois-based Abbott, which employs thousands of Minnesotans, said the FDA has approved its MitraClip device to treat people in whom enlargement of the heart from heart failure warps the mitral valve, allowing blood to flow backward in the heart.

Known as “secondary” or “functional” mitral regurgitation, this condition is about three times more common than the first MitraClip indication, approved in 2013, for the treatment of structural defects in the mitral valve leaflets themselves.

The FDA approved MitraClip for secondary mitral regurgitation after a widely noted clinical trial showed favorable results.

About 4 million Americans have one of the forms of mitral regurgitation, including 1 in 10 people aged 75 or older. MitraClip is a minimally invasive device that attaches to the mitral leaflets without open-heart surgery.

Analysts with JPMorgan said Abbott gets about $25,000 for each MitraClip, and each procedure uses an average of 1.5 devices.

joe Carlson

health care

Blue Cross cuts 40 jobs in the Iron Range

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is eliminating 40 jobs, primarily in claims processing, at locations in the Iron Range towns of Aurora and Virginia.

Eagan-based Blue Cross, which is the state’s largest nonprofit health insurer, said the move was not related to recent operating performance.

“They are part of our broader efforts to enable future innovation and growth by centralizing and redeploying resources,” a Blue Cross spokesman said via e-mail.

Through the first three quarters of 2018, the fully insured health insurance and HMO businesses at Blue Cross posted $106.2 million in operating income on $4.8 billion in revenue, according to a Star Tribune analysis. The financial results were better than the same period in 2017. For 2019, Blue Cross has seen a decline in its market share for products sold to Medicare enrollees.

The 40 employees who were laid off “would be eligible to apply for newly created positions later this year,” Blue Cross said in a statement. “We are planning to add approximately 60 new positions through 2019.”

Christopher Snowbeck