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Why Minnesota wine is so middling, and the lawsuit that aims to make it better

Better grapes make better wine.

Better grapes make better wine. Getty Images

If you’ve drunk wine from grapes grown in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably looked up from your glass after the first sip and thought, “Hot damn, them’s some good grapes.”

If you’ve drunk wine made in Minnesota, chances are you’ve looked up from your glass and thought, “Well, it’s wine.”

This is not to slam the valiant efforts of Hastings-based Alexis Bailey Vineyards, and other local wineries who have been trying hard to squeeze good juice out of Minnesota-grown grapes for decades. They try, and sometimes even succeed. But no matter how much technique they muster, Minnesota-grown grapes simply produce a flat, acidic, one-note vino.

If you love Minnesota beer, many of the hops in those brews are grown in the Pacific Northwest, where the climate produces a superior hop as well as a superior grape. But a little-known archaic law prevents vintners from making wine from grapes that are not grown in Minnesota— or at least a majority of those grapes must be grown in Minnesota.

The law was enacted in 1980, ostensibly to protect Minnesota’s then-budding grape industry from economic competition. But the law has left local winemakers unable to bring in the delicious grapes that make the delicious wines we all know and enjoy so very, very much.

So, with the help of the Institute for Justice (America's libertarian, civil liberties, and public interest law firm) local vineyards Alexis Bailey Vineyard and Next Chapter Winery have filed a lawsuit claiming that “discrimination against out-of-state commerce is unconstitutional unless the state can prove that the out-of-state commerce at issue is more dangerous than the in-state commerce, a burden that the state cannot satisfy in this case.”

The lawsuit was filed with the state of Minnesota on Tuesday, and the state has 21 days to respond.

“Minnesota shouldn’t be boxing in entrepreneurs with these protectionist laws,” says Meagan Forbes, an attorney for the Institute for Justice. “Winemaking is an art.”

Here’s to hoping the state frees up all the tools available to make that art as exquisite as it is meant to be.