CC image courtesy of MdAgDept.
Posted by Greg Renick on April 22, 2013.
There are some powerhouse regions of winemaking here in the United States—California, Washington, and Oregon come to mind. But winemaking in the United States is much more than a collection of large-scale wineries that ship millions of gallons of wine to consumers nationwide. Rather, a number of “small-farm wineries” are scattered across all regions of the country, many of which have been operated by single families for generations. These farm wineries remain an integral part of our nation’s wine production and are often subject to specific production and distribution laws.
Arkansas is one of many states whose native wine production comes exclusively from small-farm wineries. In an effort to better understand the regulations relating to these farm wineries, I turned to members of the renowned Post family, who for five generations have owned and operated Arkansas’ premier winery. The Post Familie Winery is the largest winery in Arkansas and was the first commercial vineyard in the state, formally opening in 1880. The Posts still purchase roughly 80% of the state’s grape production, further cementing themselves as the premier winemaking family in the state.1 In fact, after the Prohibition era, the Arkansas state legislature turned to members of the Post family for assistance in drafting laws to make winegrowing legal once again. It should come as no surprise, then, that a member of the Post family, John Post, assisted in drafting important Arkansas farm winery laws that were enacted in 2007.
First, some relevant information. According to the Post family, “Arkansas is one of many states that are works-in-progress when it comes to updating wine shipping laws. We currently aren’t allowed to directly ship to anyone in our state!”2 Although most states permit at least some direct wine shipping, Arkansas is one of several states that continues to prohibit it.3 So what does this mean for small-farm wineries? They are only able to sell their wines at their own retail stores, or they can attempt to sell their wines through distributors, who often preference larger producers. Because of this restriction on distribution, small-farm wineries needed an advantage to be able to compete in the wine market.
The Arkansas legislature met this need in 2007 by passing farm winery legislation. The statute defines “small-farm winery” as a wine-making establishment that does not produce for sale more than two-hundred fifty thousand (250,000) gallons of wine, the alcoholic content of which is between 0.5% and 25% by weight, per calendar year.4 This is definition was significant because of a related law passed to allow grocery stores to begin selling wine, but only wine produced by “small-farm wineries.” Therefore, although mass-produced wines from regions like California and Australia still dominate the Arkansas liquor store market, a special market for small-farm wineries has emerged in supermarkets. As local grocery giant, Ozark Natural Foods, explains, “The State of Arkansas allows grocery and convenience stores to carry beers and wines, but with certain limitations. We can only carry wine that is produced by ‘Small-farm wineries,’ meaning those that produce less than 250,000 gallons per year. While that may seem like a lot, it actually limits us from carrying most all wines from Europe and most all currently Certified Organic wines. But it also means we can focus on those local wineries and small family-operated wineries from elsewhere in the country that focus on sustainable practices.”5
The Arkansas model is similar to the models of several states throughout the central United States. While the ability to distribute directly to consumers would help these small-farm wineries nationwide, the 2007 Arkansas law and similar legislation is beginning to establish at least a local market for these wine producers. As summarized by the Post family, “What we have now is successful. It is rippling across the country as a model of free trade for wineries.”6 Let’s hope that these small-farm wineries continue to succeed in a market dominated by large-scale winemaking powerhouses.
Greg Renick is a J.D. candidate at Cornell Law School and an Associate of the Society of Wine and Jurisprudence. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Arkansas and regularly hones his beverage palate as a bartender at the Moonshadow Tavern in Ithaca, NY. Greg enjoys Malbecs and the occasional dry Riesling.
For a PDF of this post in its original version, click here.
- See About Us, Post Familie Vineyards, http://www.postfamilie.com/about_us.htm (last accessed Apr. 22, 2013). ↩
- Post Winery, Altus, Arkansas, Post Familie Vineyards, http://www.postfamilie.com/ (2012). ↩
- Theresa Cederoth, An Introduction to U.S. Wine Shipping Laws, Soc. Wine & Jur., Jan. 25, 2013, http://wineandjurisprudence.org/?p=275. See also Byron Crowe, Freer Grapes and Freer Markets: Direct Wine Shipment in South Dakota, Soc. Wine & Jur., Apr. 4, 2013, http://wineandjurisprudence.org/freer-grapes-and-freer-markets-direct-wine-shipment-in-south-dakota/; Ryan Mulvey, Wine Lovers Without Representation: The Future of Massachusetts Wine Shipping , Soc. Wine & Jur., Feb. 4, 2013, http://wineandjurisprudence.org/wine-lovers-without-representation-the-future-of-massachusetts-wine-shipping/. ↩
- Ark. Admin. Code 006.02.2-2.70 (West 2013). ↩
- Beer and Wine, Ozark Natural Foods, http://www.ozarknaturalfoods.com/departments/beer-wine/ (last accessed Apr. 22, 2013). ↩
- Interview with Joseph Post, Post Familie Vineyards (Apr. 1, 2013). ↩