Lawsuit seeks more freedom for wineries in frosty Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two Minnesota wineries sued the state Tuesday to try to overturn a law that requires them to make their products with a majority of grapes grown in Minnesota, a state that’s better known for its winters than vineyards.

The wineries say the state Farm Wineries Act, which dates from 1980, unconstitutionally hampers their ability to source grapes and juice from elsewhere and use as much of them in their wines as they see fit.

“As a winemaker I want the freedom to make the wines that I choose,” Nan Bailly, owner of one of Minnesota’s oldest wineries, Alexis Bailly Vineyard, of Hastings, said at a news conference.

The other plaintiff is the Next Chapter Winery, of New Prague, owned by Timothy Tulloch. He pointed out that Minnesota vineyards only have 150 days of frost-free weather, compared with 320 for California. He said consumers want the choice of old-world wines such as syrah and cabernet sauvignon, which can’t grow in Minnesota. And he said it’s tough to find enough Minnesota-grown grapes to meet all the demand.

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The two wineries are represented by the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit that advocates for economic liberty and property rights. Attorney Meagan Forbes said about a dozen other states have similar laws, but bordering Iowa and Wisconsin don’t, and they have more wineries than Minnesota.

As unlikely as the idea of a wine industry in snowy Minnesota might sound, it has grown rapidly. That’s thanks to the development of cold-hardy grapes at the University of Minnesota such as the red Marquette and the white Frontenac gris, improvements in quality, and the ways its wineries have tapped into agritourism with tasting rooms and special events.

Minnesota’s vineyards and wineries generated $80.3 million worth of total economic activity in 2015, supporting 10,500 jobs and paying $37.3 million in labor income, according to a University of Minnesota Extension report. That compares with $53.6 million in activity in 2011. The number of wineries in the state rose from 42 in 2011 to 52 in 2015. Average sales rose from $311,000 in 2011 to $580,000 in 2015.

According to the complaint filed in federal court, Bailly can’t grow enough grapes herself to meet the Minnesota-majority requirement, so she’s had to buy grapes from other Minnesota growers, even though they cost more than grapes from elsewhere, and she’s been disappointed by the quality of what’s available. She uses grapes and juice from California and New York to cut the acidity of local grapes and achieve flavors she said can’t be attained with just Minnesota-grown grapes.

The law allows temporary waivers for when Minnesota-grown grapes and juices aren’t available in sufficient quantities, such as years after harsh winters, but wineries must keep applying for them.

The Minnesota Grape Growers Association hasn’t…

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