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May 25, 2005

Bottle of Wine, Crossing State Lines • American Cuisine Via Idaho Via Japan

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Bottle of Wine, Crossing State Lines

The Supreme Court struck down last week state laws banning direct out-of-state wine shipments-meaning that wine lovers in states with these laws (that's half of the union) might have more reason to raise a glass.

The Supreme Court majority cited "evenhandedness" as a key issue, calling state bans "discriminatory and anti-competitive." Twenty-four states currently ban direct out-of-state shipments, while all 50 states allow direct shipment by in-state producers. Small wineries, being more likely to make the bulk of their sales to direct customers rather than wholesalers, claim that existing bans cripple their ability to compete with larger wineries who sell to wholesalers. Those upholding the ban claim that it allows states to regulate fraud and underage drinking and-this is probably the real sticking point-collect millions in alcohol taxes. (Shipments coming into a state via Internet sales, for example, might very well slip under the tax radar.)

The ruling overturns laws in New York and Michigan that criminalized the direct purchase of wine from vineyards in other states. However, all states will have to adhere to the ruling, which maintains that the broad power of states to regulate liquor doesn't permit current anti-competitive inconsistencies. Since consistency is at issue, states could conceivably continue with the out-of-state direct shipping ban by likewise banning in-state direct shipping.

Idaho is not one of the 24 states banning direct shipments from out-of-state wineries. However, Idaho's several wineries, particularly smaller ones, might stand to benefit if in the future they can make direct interstate sales-via Internet customers or visitors shipping bottles home-without a distributor middleman.

American Cuisine Via Idaho Via Japan

Our governor is so excited about this next bit, his office put out a press release. It begins: "Idaho will be the first state to have its food and agricultural products featured on a new Web site providing Japanese consumers with timely and accurate information on the quality of American foods and beverages." I think I speak for us all when I say: That's really something.

The Web site in question, www.myfood.jp, aims to inform Japanese consumers on all things Amerifood-restaurant and event information, recipes, news on U.S.-produced foods and production regions, as well as "information on the nutritional value and health and beauty benefits of American foods." (As American "beauty benefits" go, Hot Pockets really do give the cheeks a certain glow ... or is it a rash?)

The Web site is new, and the Idaho feature-with the Kempthorne, Sen. Dean Cameron and Ag Director Pat Takasugi interview-will be up in the near future.

Is it news? Is it kitsch? The Web site is in Japanese, so we may never know.