Archive for Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wine ruling sets stage for debate

May 17, 2005

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Almost every day, customers call the Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery near Basehor, hoping to order some Kansas-made wine.

"I always have to tell them I can sell it to them over the counter, but I can't ship it anywhere," said Michelle Meyer, who owns the winery with her father, Les.

"In Kansas, it's illegal for a winery to ship wine," she said. "We're licensed to make it and sell it, but we can't ship it."

That may soon change.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down laws in Michigan and New York that prohibit out-of-state wine shipments.

"States have broad power to regulate liquor,"' wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. "This power, however, does not allow states to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment of out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers."

It's legal, Kennedy wrote, for states to ban both in-state and out-of-state shipments. But it's unconstitutional to ban one and not the other.

"If a state chooses to allow direct shipments of wine, it must do so on evenhanded terms," Kennedy wrote.

While the ruling is not expected to have an immediate effect on wineries in Kansas -- the state's laws prohibit both in- and out-of-state shipments -- the ruling does set the stage for legislative debate over restrictions on the state's wine producers.

"There's a lot of interest in this," said House Assistant Majority Leader Joe McLeland, R-Wichita. "It's good for business, good for commerce."

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on interstate wine sales May 16, 2005, but Kansas wineries -- such as Greg Shipe's Davenport Orchard, Vineyard and Winery east of Lawrence -- still can't ship their wines across state lines. Other wine producers hope the ruling spurs discussion of state liquor laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on interstate wine sales May 16, 2005, but Kansas wineries -- such as Greg Shipe's Davenport Orchard, Vineyard and Winery east of Lawrence -- still can't ship their wines across state lines. Other wine producers hope the ruling spurs discussion of state liquor laws.

Kansas' 11 wineries are expected to produce more than 50,000 gallons of wine this year, according to the Kansas Department of Commerce. More than 100 acres of Kansas soil are devoted to grape growing.

"A lot of people don't know this but before Prohibition, Kansas and Missouri were big wine-producing states," said McLeland, a connoisseur of fine wines. "California didn't get into the act until the 1950s and 1960s."

At Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery, Meyer said she and other winery operators had struggled to understand the state's restrictions on wine shipments.

"Fair trade is fair trade," she said. "If I have a product -- a legal product -- and a customer who wants me to ship it to them, I don't see why I shouldn't be able to."

Greg Shipe, owner of Davenport Orchard, Vineyard and Winery east of Lawrence and president of the Kansas Viniculture and Farm Winery Assn., said wine already was being shipped into the state.

"It's coming in every day," he said. "There's no way to stop it."

The vast majority of interstate sales, he said, involve collectors shopping for wines they cannot find in their local liquor stores.

"You can buy wine anywhere," Shipe said, "so, really, this is about a niche-market product."




Whether legislators will be quick in rallying to the wine producers' cause remains to be seen.

"This is not a slam dunk in terms of whether we need to anything anything or, if we do, what that would be," said Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend and chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Edmonds said he wouldn't be leading the charge.

"There are a lot of issues that would to be dealt with, not the least of which would be opening the door for a 14-year-old with dad's credit card to buy wine," he said. "We don't let them buy guns that way. Do we want to let them by wine that way?"




Staff writer Dave Ranney can be reached at 832-7222.

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