Uncorking Economic Opportunity In Minnesota and Beyond

The U.S. Constitution guarantees free trade among the states, and free trade has been a hallmark of American economic freedom ever since our nation’s founding. Now—more than 200 years later—Minnesota is violating this founding ideal at the expense of local farm wineries by limiting the grapes from other states that Minnesota winemakers can use to make their wines.

I know what you are thinking: wine from Minnesota? How? Most drinkable wines are made from grapes that struggle in the state’s extremely cold and harsh climate. Winemaking grapes grown in the region are a recent and promising phenomenon but they are often too acidic for most wine drinkers. So to make delicious wines, winemakers blend Minnesota-grown grapes with grapes grown elsewhere to create an essentially Minnesotan wine that is also drinkable.

Unfortunately, after opening their wineries, winemakers face a major obstacle to growth: The state bans farm wineries from making their wine with a majority of grapes grown outside Minnesota. This restriction forces farm wineries to buy a majority of their grapes from Minnesota growers, even when these grapes do not suit their winemaking needs. This trade restriction therefore prevents farm wineries from expanding their offerings to the broad variety of wines that their customers want. The law does not apply to the state’s thriving craft breweries that use hops grown in the Pacific Northwest, where the climate is much more suitable than the Upper Midwest. In other words, breweries can decide what is best for their customers, but farm wineries cannot.

The government should not be bottling up opportunity with this kind of protectionist law. That is why IJ has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Minnesota’s restriction on farm wineries’ right to free trade.

IJ represents Alexis Bailly Vineyard, the oldest farm winery in Minnesota. Alexis Bailly Vineyard has suffered under this restriction for decades. Its owner, Nan Bailly, has been making award-winning Minnesota wines for years. Her customers enjoy these wines, but they also value diversity in the flavors and varieties of her wines—which she cannot offer under the state’s restriction.

IJ also represents Next Chapter Winery, a small Minnesota winery owned by Timothy and Therese Tulloch. After Timothy built a successful coffee-roasting business, the Tullochs decided to pursue their lifelong dream of opening a vineyard. Yet they have been unable to fully realize their dream because the state is blocking their ability to access the grapes they need to make the wines that their customers want.

We are challenging this trade restriction under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to trade freely across state lines.

This case continues IJ’s long tradition of protecting the right to earn a living when it is threatened by economic protectionism. It further builds on the important precedent we set in Swedenburg v. Kelly, where the U.S. Supreme Court protected the rights of wineries to sell wine across state lines. Minnesota farm wineries and Americans (drinkers and otherwise) nationwide, have a right to benefit from our Constitution’s promise of free trade between the states. A victory here will help protect this right—and economic opportunity—for everyone.

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