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Court hears appeal on Mass. wine shipment law

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2009/11/02 14:50

Gerald Leader loves California wines but lives in Massachusetts, where state law sharply limits the ability of out-of-state wineries to ship their products directly to consumers.

"I can't go directly to wineries in Napa and Sonoma," said Leader, a retired Boston University professor, who, along with a group of like-minded people, are suing to have the restriction lifted.

On Monday, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is scheduled to hear arguments on the law that for years has been fermenting opposition from out-of-state wine producers, as well as connoisseurs like Leader who would prefer to order their bottles through the Internet or mail order.

Despite a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that opened the door wider to interstate wine shipments, restrictions remain in more than a dozen states. Attorneys say the outcome of the case in Massachusetts could influence others.

"It's an example of a protectionist law that violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution," said Tracy Genesen, who will argue the case on behalf of Sacramento, Calif.-based Family Winemakers of California, which represents about 650 producers that claim they have essentially been frozen out of the Massachusetts market.

According to Free the Grapes, a coalition of wine producers, retailers and consumers, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Utah prohibit wineries from shipping directly to consumers while Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio along with Massachusetts restrict shipments by companies that produce over a certain amount of wine.


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