Wineries sue New York over Internet sales restrictions

The issue over buying alcohol online heated up this week when the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in New York, challenging that state's ban on directly shipping wine to consumers from out-of-state wineries.

The suit was filed yesterday on behalf of small wineries, including Swedenburg Estate Vineyards in Middleburg, Va., and the Lucas Winery in Lodi, Calif., in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

New York is the second-largest wine market, after California.

Yesterday's suit was filed to preserve economic liberty and free speech on the Internet, said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel at the Institute, a Washington-based libertarian public-interest law firm.

The New York Attorney General's office hasn't received the paperwork regarding the lawsuit at press time. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment.

Thirty states, including New York, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, South Carolina and Michigan ban direct wine sales from out-of-state wineries to consumers. According to the Institute, in the majority of these states consumers who visit these states can't lawfully ship wine to themselves at home.

States have come down hard on penalties against out-of-state alcohol beverage sellers (see story). Last October, Maryland joined Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee to make these transactions a felony. Congress also considered taking action limiting online liquor sales.

As for the suit in New York, Mellor expects it to go before the federal courts and be resolved by the end of this year.

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