US Supreme Court to rule on major wine regulation case

A case, due to be heard in the US Supreme Court tomorrow, which involves national retailer Total Wine & More opening a branch in the state of Tennessee, could have wider implications for interstate wine sales.

The case, Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair, is due to be heard on at the US Supreme Court on Wednesday 16 January.

It was brought about when major US retailer Total Wine & More attempted to open a site in the state of Tennessee. In response to Total Wine’s efforts, a group of existing retailers within the state banded together to try and block the move arguing that that the law required licence holders to be resident in the state for a period of time.

According to state law, those applying for an alcohol licence must have been a resident in Tennessee for two years before getting an initial license. The initial licence expires after one year, after which the person must have been resident in the state for 10 consecutive years in order to renew.

A previous case heard in 2005, Granholm v. Heald, gave wine producers permission to sell and ship their products to out-of-state customers. US commentators have stated that Total Wine’s case could mean that this permission would be extended to retailers. Total Wine’s case is also backed by the National Association of Wine Retailers and others, including a group of 81 consumers who filed a brief in support. 

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the 21st Amendment stated that it was up to each US state to make its own laws regarding the sale and shipment of alcohol. In order to get their products to retailers in different states, producers of wine, spirits and beer across the US must therefore use national wholesalers, thus creating the country’s three-tier alcohol distribution system.

A total of 13 states in the US, plus Washington D.C, permit interstate wine sales. These include: Alaska, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia and Wyoming.

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