- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

A federal judge ruled yesterday that New York must allow out-of-state wineries to ship directly to customers, effective immediately.
Maryland lawmakers say the order is one more piece of evidence they need in introducing bills in the next General Assembly session to lessen restrictive alcohol shipping laws.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman, for the Southern District of the 2nd Circuit, ordered the state to stop enacting parts of the Alcohol and Beverage Control Law that prohibit out-of-state wineries from directly shipping their products to New York consumers.
Judge Berman declared the law unconstitutional last month in a case involving Swendenburg Estate Vineyards, a Middleburg, Va., winery that produces 2,500 cases of specialty wines each year.
Juanita Swendenburg, the main plaintiff and co-owner of the winery, said she won't ship wine to New York in the future, despite the ruling and although New Yorkers make up 65 percent of her out-of-state clientele.
"It's a step in the right direction," Mrs. Swendenburg said. "But I expect that the wholesalers will appeal this and we could be looking at a Supreme Court decision before I will feel at ease enough to ship wine to New York."
New York's Liquor Authority plans to appeal, a spokesman said yesterday.
"The case will likely end up at the Supreme Court, especially since the districts have been split on the issue, though we expect to have strong standing for the appeal," said Steve Simpson, an attorney representing Mrs. Swendenburg and New York consumers in the case. He works at the Institute for Justice, a D.C. libertarian public interest law firm.
Judge Berman's ruling correlates with rulings of four other cases concerning wine shipping in Texas and Illinois, said Steve Gross, state relations manager for the Wine Institute, a San Francisco public policy association for 550 wineries.
"Wineries and wine consumers are definitely gaining momentum in overturning current restrictive shipping laws" in 29 states, Mr. Gross said. "It ends up being a decision for the state, but this could end up being a Supreme Court decision."
Sen. Andew Harris, Baltimore County Republican, plans on introducing legislation with Rep. Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat, in January, which would allow out-of-state wineries to ship their products to retailers by registering with Maryland's Comptroller's Office.
"This court decision is our ace in the hole of getting this legislation passed through next year," said Kevin Reigrut, Mr. Harris' chief of staff.
"Senator Harris plans to use this ruling and the noncooperation by Maryland wholesalers to prove that the law passed last year has not been effective enough in giving wine collectors the freedom to purchase out-of-state wines," Mr. Reigrut said.
All alcohol sold in Maryland is through licensed retailers to consumers. The law passed last year allows out-of-state wineries to get permits to sell through wholesalers, but no winery has applied.
Steve Taylor, deputy director for Maryland's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Unit, said he doesn't expect a challenge to the laws in the near future.

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