JANESVILLE — Ray Winter worries that a federal court ruling handed down this week will weaken the integrity of Minnesota’s craft winery business.
“It doesn’t help the Minnesota wine industry,” said Winter, owner of Indian Island Winery.
The court ruling struck down a state law that prohibits farm wineries from making wine unless a majority of the grapes used are grown in Minnesota. The law was intended to support the rural economy and, Winter said, to help ensure that bottles labeled “Minnesota” wines were made, at least mostly, from Minnesota grapes.
“Now they can use all their out-of-state grapes and pass them off as Minnesota wines.”
Winter has always used 100% Minnesota grapes — those coming from his family’s large vineyard and those they buy from other Minnesota vineyards — and he said that won’t change.
Those who brought the lawsuit against the state’s “51% rule” argued it unconstitutionally interfered with interstate commerce and was protectionism that created higher prices for grapes and limited winemakers’ ability to make more varieties.
For Indian Island the change will have little effect in how they make wine. “We’re not going to do anything differently because I pride myself on being 100% Minnesota wine with Minnesota grapes,” Winter said.
He said there is a large base of consumers who want to support Minnesota grown and Minnesota businesses. “I guess the big thing for consumers now is to ask questions. If you truly care about Minnesota wine, ask them what’s in the wine.”
He said he hopes the change doesn’t hurt all of the small vineyards that have started up in recent years to support wineries. Those vineyards now face the prospect of wineries buying more out-of-state, often cheaper, grapes.
Les Curry, who started the 5 plus-acre Lone Oak Tree Vineyard near Amboy in 2009, said he’s unsure of what the change will bring for vineyards, but he’s confident in his operation.
“People who do a good job will always get their crop sold. I do everything that needs to be done and then some more,” Curry said. Half his grapes are sold to Indian Island and half to Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery in Kasota.
Still, he said the ruling leaves a lot of uncertainty for vineyard operators. But Curry said he’s hopeful for grape growers because the wine-making business continues to grow in the state. “There are more wineries coming online.”
Cody Kaye, who started Yellow House Vineyards in the St. Croix Valley in Afton a few years ago, said the uncertainty from the ruling is a blow to someone just starting out. “I was considering an expansion, but I don’t know what the market will be.”
He said he contracted with some wineries to sell this year’s crop but isn’t sure about next year. “If wineries don’t have to buy any grapes in the state, they will be going to Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan or California and bring them in and call it Minnesota wine,” Kaye said.
“I think this won’t inspire people to want to grow grapes.”