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Michigan vintners win and lose in new shipment bill

America’s hottest high-stakes battle over direct shipment of wine to consumers has resumed. In a legislative skirmish, Michigan’s 43 wineries gained and lost.

On 31 August, Michigan’s House passed a bill enabling every winery inside and outside the Midwestern state to ship 500 cases of wine per year to residents. The bill, with provisions to keep wine from minors, goes to the Senate.

But vintners are displeased, because the bill stops them from selling directly to retailers and restaurants, as they have for 35 years. Instead, they must go through wholesalers.

The House’s 84-22 vote surprised many, because most legislators had openly favored a bill ending all shipments, including those by Michigan wineries, which have sent wines to homes for three decades.

That bill was championed by wholesalers, who feared that West Coast vintners’ direct sales would weaken their monopoly over wines entering the state.

House members’ positions may have changed because these members have been mocked by editorials and citizens’ organizations, who observe that wholesalers gave more than $475,000 in campaign contributions to lawmakers and political-action committees in 2003-2004.

Citizens’ groups said a ban on all shipments would force local wineries to lose business or close. They called legislators’ arguments that unregulated shipments might fall into minors’ hands a red herring.

The Legislature had to act because the US Supreme Court ruled in May that a Michigan law permitting direct shipments by Michigan wineries but barring them from out-of-state wineries was unconstitutional. Everybody or nobody ships, the court declared.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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