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Family Winemakers sues Massachusetts over capacity cap

In the previous post, we mention that a group sued Arizona over the discriminatory nature of their 20,000 gallon capacity cap. Now, the Family Winemakers of California, a group representing over 740 small and medium sized wineries, is suing the State of Massachusetts for the same reason. Paul Kronenberg, President of Family Winemakers, said the following about the 30,000 gallon production capacity cap in Massachusetts

Last year, the Supreme Court told Michigan and New York to stop the discrimination. But the Massachusetts legislators have chosen to ignore the Court’s message that we are one national economic market. State laws that protect and perpetuate a wholesaler monopoly at the expense of wineries seeking market opportunities and consumers seeking a wider choice in wine, run counter to the concept of free trade within the nation.

Read the full press release here.

Other hurdles in Massachusetts have effectively kept it closed for direct shipping to date. On top of the 30,000 gallon capacity cap, there is a burdensome 14 page permit application as well as a 240 Liter (26+ cases) per individual volume limit across all wineries. Similar to the rule in Indiana, this would mean the winery that ships the 27th case would be in violation. FedEx and UPS are not shipping to Massachusetts for direct sales.

5 Comments

  1. Hi guys,
    Short word of praise… your blog is very good. It’s brief and most importantly it’s reader friendly
    Keep up the good work.
    B

  2. At the risk of sounding like a traitor to the cause of wine, free trade and the American Way, I would like to challenge the premises that underlie Mr. Kronenberg’s lawsuit against the revised wine shipping statutes in Kentucky. As a representative of the very small wineries in Colorado, the last thing I want to do is “protect and perpetuate a wholesaler monopoly at the expense of wineries seeking market opportunities,” as Mr. Kronenberg accuses the Kentucky legislature of doing. Yet, I take exception to his comment that we are “one national economic market.” As recent court rulings in Virginia and Michigan have shown, the local implementation of the three-tier system was reinforced, not invalidated by the Granholm decision, as long as the implementation is not discriminatory or preferential. States still have the right to regulate alcohol in a meaningful way that suits the “needs and desires” of their residents, as the language of the Colorado Liquor Code requires.

    If a state chooses to impose size limits on certain privileges for liquor distribution or market access, that state may well be doing so because it has determined that small wineries have more difficulty getting their products through the three-tier system than large wineries with sales teams and marketing budgets. That state could be saying that it values small businesses that stimulate agriculture, and it should not have to defend that position against the legal whims of wineries that produce more wine in a year than the entire state. While the Family Winemakers of California represents the “smaller” wineries in that state, I doubt if many of Mr. Kronenberg’s members produce less than the entire state of Kentucky or Colorado or both states combined.

    We should remember that prior to Prohibition and the 21st Amendment, the beverage alcohol industry was made up of small, local breweries and wineries in almost every community. The advent of the mega-breweries and corporate wineries was something that happened as a result of Prohibition. The 21st Amendment was designed to protect states against the liquor monopolies spawned in the void created by Prohibition. The framers of that amendment wanted to return to the alcohol industry model of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is easy to accuse the wholesale industry of being monopolistic because a handful of companies dominate the market in every state. But the same can be said of the large wineries in California.

    The grape growing industry did not disappear in California and New York as a result of Prohibition the way it did in most other states, such as Colorado. Our vineyards were replanted to peach trees. Consequently, California wineries, and certain breweries in St. Louis and Golden, were able to capitalized on the demise of the local wine industries and recover more quickly than those in the rest of the county. The wine industries in states other than New York, California and Washington are just now coming back from Prohibition.

    So at this point in history when California’s wine industry, which has been growing nicely for 40-50 years, complains that states are discriminating in favor of small wineries, it is in truth asking the courts for special protections. In effect, the 40-50 year advantage that California has over wine industries in the rest of the country, during which time small wineries enjoyed special protections and privileges from the California government, makes them the monopoly now. Under the guise of “equal protection” as spelled out in the Granholm decision, their legal actions have the impact of squelching the advantages that state governments want to give small agribusinesses like wineries.

    The economic reality is that large wineries can afford to navigate the spiffs and expenditures of the three-tier system. Just because few states have wineries that produce more than 20,000 gallons annually, or whatever number a state uses to define a small winery, imposing size limits on direct shipment or self-distribution is not an attempt to inhibit trade. It is an acknowledgement we are not starting with a level playing field.

    To my friends (and I hope we remain friends, as this is a friendly debate) Paul, at the Family Winemakers, and Steve, at the Wine Institute, I call on you to recognize the historic disparity between where your industry is and where the industries are in Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri and other states. You have a big economic head start on the rest of us. Our attempts to limit how the “big boys” play in our states are not attempts to keep you out. They are the implementation of each state’s right to define the rules for the three-tier system within our state, to identify who is small enough to need help and who doesn’t. This is the American Way.

  3. Doug:

    First, anyone accusing you of being a traitor to the wine industry simply doesn’t know you or doesn’t care for honesty.

    That said, I want to comment on your elequent plea for respecting the postion Colorado and other smaller state wine industries find themselves in vis a vis the current debate over direct shipping regulations.

    First, with regard to the Granholm ruling, it strikes me that the ruling did not so much “reinforce” the validity of the 3-tier system as much as it simply concurred that it was a legitimate way for a state to structure the distribution of alcohol. By this I mean, it did not endorse the excusionary charachter of system, but rather acknowledged its legitimacy. This is important.

    The idea that the state is preventing direct shipping by those that produce over a certain amount because it “values small businesses that stimulate agriculture” belies the facts and machinations in the direct shipping debate. Were direct shipping to consumers open to all wineries, large and small, there is no reason to believe that a small Colorado winery would be hurt by CA wineries of any size trying to attracte consumers to wine clubs or occassional Internet sales. In fact, being closer to the Colorado consumer than a CA or WA winery, the Colorado winery should have an advantage in reaching that consumers.

    The bottom line is that production limits are approved by Wholesalers becauase it keeps the vast majority of direct sales from occuring while allowing in-state wineries that they rarely deal with to go about their business without criticizing wholesalers. As a bonus for wholesalers, it puts wineries in-state into conflict with out-of-state wineries that are prevented from entering the market via direct sales.

    As for monopolistic tendencies, it is indeed easy to accuse wholesalers of being monopolies. But the idea that “the same can be said of the large wineries in California” just doesn’t wash for one simple reason: The Wholesalers benefit from STATE SPONSORED monopoly status. By dictating the use of the three tier system the States guarantee that a smaller and smaller group of wholesalers take a piece of every sale in the state. Yet, there are no provisions that they represent any winery that wants to sell in that state. If in addition there are production requirements on those that can sell direct in a state that has granted a monopoly to wine wholesalers many wineries will be prevented entirely from doing business in that state.

    The State of California does not impose any regulations that result in CA wineries selling the vast amount of domestic wine in the United States. This difference in who imposes a monopoly is important.

    If the concern is for fairness and a desire to see Colorado wineries expand and prosper there is a simple way to accomlish this: Allow wineries to self distribute in the state as well as sell direct to consumers. No one represents a brand better than the owner. But as long as the state imposes the 3-tier system, this can never happen because under Granholm if CO wineries can self distribute then out of state wineries must be able to also. Wholesalers would just as soon see small state wine industries disappear altogether than allow this sort of situation.

    And this brings us to the idea that “Under the guise of “equal protection” as spelled out in the Granholm decision, their (those bringing suits) legal actions have the impact of squelching the advantages that state governments want to give small agribusinesses like wineries.”

    If government and legislators were truly interested in giving small agribusiniess a hand up, they would ignore the demands and campaign donations of wholesalers and allow unrestricted direct sales and unrestricttd self-distribution in their states. It’s clear the legislators too would rather throw CO wineries and other small state wine industries under the bus before upsetting the antiquated but very profitable apple cart known as the state sponsored wholesaler monopoly, AKA “Three Tier System”.

    In the end, the restrictions that states put on who can ship to consumers don’t merely inhibit the “Big Boys”. They inhibit the very small boys too, the very boys that most distributors don’t want anything do do with. But the big problem is that as long as the three tier system is imposed by the state, small industries like that of Colorado will be hampered.

  4. As a citizen of Massachusetts and someone who has seen this on the ground, I would like to make a few comments about the practical side of this which is somewhat contrary to the generally published reasons and legal theories.

    It is possible to ship any amount of wine into Massachusetts. There are those who do it on a regular basis. The only problem is you have to find someone who has a license to import into the state. There are only a few people who have these licenses. If you apply for a license, you won’t get one. To ship through a person who has a license is very expensive. The obvious conclusion from the data is that a few people are making a very profitable business of importing wine into MA without adding any value. MA one of those states that has a largely one party legislature. The members of that legislature, once they are established, usually have a job for life. Intentionally or unintentionally the legislature is protecting these importers. I wonder why?

    When the 30,000 gallon production capacity cap was passed, the legislature announced that once again they had protected the small wine makers in MA. Odd that the industry group that represents the small wine makers in MA issued a statement at the same time saying that they had no problem with free trade. If MA is not protecting the wine makers then who are they protecting, and why?

    I am using the name John Doe for this post – I have to live in this state.

  5. Each day the idea of free trade becomes more an afterthought throughout this country. We do not live in a free market, on the contrary we have over regulation and a protected few who profit only on the losses of others.

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