This is a disturbing development and one not unique to Minnesota:
Two Minnesota winemakers have gone to court to overturn a state law they say is hampering their livelihoods – even though the law in question was designed to protect the state’s wine industry.
Nan Bailly, owner of Alexis Bailly Vineyard – Minnesota‘s first winery – and Next Chapter’s Tim Tulloch have taken the extraordinary measure this week in an attempt to have the 1980 Farm Wineries Act struck down, according to Minnesota’s Star Tribune newspaper.
The law stipulates that wineries must use more than 50 percent of Minnesota-grown grapes in order to label the result as Minnesota wine, but Bailly and Tulloch are arguing that it unconstitutionally prevents them from sourcing grapes from out of state, forcing them to make wines that appeal to neither their bottom line nor consumers’ palates.
I understand the motivation but not the logic. Minnesota is a cool weather region that has trouble protecting vinifera vines of favored varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from winter cold and getting these grapes ripe in the summer. So they want to import grapes from the West coast in order to make wines their customers want to drink. There is no problem with that and nothing in current law prevents them from doing so. What they can’t do now is label their wines as being made from Minnesota grapes. And there is good reason for that. They aren’t made from Minnesota grapes. Labeling them as coming from Minnesota would be false advertising.
The aim of this lawsuit is to give them permission to mislead their customers.
Minnesota wine is distinctive because of the characteristics imparted by Minnesota climates and soils. There is unlikely to be anything distinctive about Minnesota wines made from California grapes unless the winemaker has some unusual talent or unique style. But in that case, his/her wines will attract attention regardless of what region is on the label.
This lawsuit appears to be nothing but an attempt by larger influential, producers to flood the market with generic wine pushing out producers struggling to give Minnesota wines an identity. If successful it will destroy the industry. Why would Minnesotans go out of their way to buy wines made from California grapes when the local liquor store has hundreds of California wines for sale?
The successful wine regions in the world are those who are able to figure out what makes their wines distinctive. The last thing we need is more generic wine.