MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Independent wineries are in the midst of a trade battle that has reached the Supreme Court. The issue pits state control of alcohol sales against congressional authority to regulate interstate commerce.
Chatham Hill Winery in Morrisville is one of about 40 wineries in the state that entertains visitors with a variety of wines. Most are produced from local vineyards. However, if visitors want cases shipped home or orders come over the phone or Internet, the winery has to see if they are allowed to ship to that particular state.
"We have to check what state that person is from and see on our list whether we are allowed to ship or not," Chatham Hill winery co-owner Marek Wojciechowski said.
You can ship cases of wine to places like Virginia or West Virginia, but many states consider out-of-state wine shipments a felony. North Carolina is one of the states which allows such shipments, but at a limit of two cases per month per customer.
Some states refuse any out-of-state wine shipment unless it is through a licensed wholesaler. But that adds to the cost and the number of independent wine products has grown faster than wholesalers ability to offer them.
"We are after open markets and allowing free competition," Wojciechowski said.
"I think if you go somewhere and like the wine at a certain place, you ought to be able to order it and have it shipped to you," winery visitor Larry Epperson said.
Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether the states or Congress should control alcohol sales when shipments cross state lines. It is also considering whether it is unfair competition when a state like Michigan or New York allow direct to consumer shipments from in-state wineries, but not from out-of-state wineries.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in December and issue a decision by July 2005.