Washington Law Review


Washington’s wine industry is growing, and the ways in which Washington winemakers craft and sell their product are changing. Traditional “brick and mortar” wineries coexist with so-called “virtual wineries,” which typically purchase grapes from growers and contract with other wineries or custom crush facilities to access winemaking equipment. The virtual winery is an incubator model and contributes to the rich diversity of Washington’s wine industry. Washington’s current winery licensing statute, RCW 66.24.170, does not clearly apply to virtual wineries because it links the concept of a winery with a particular physical location and fails to delineate exactly what types of winemaking activities licensees must engage in. This statutory ambiguity causes confusion for winemakers and regulators. House Bill 1641, introduced in January 2011, seeks to remedy the confusion by dividing the current winery licensing statute into two classes: one for traditional wineries, and one for virtual wineries. The latter would be licensed not as producers of wine but as retailers. While well-intentioned, House Bill 1641 could negatively impact Washington’s wine industry by limiting virtual wineries’ access to consumers via interstate direct shipment. Unlike licensed wine producers, wine retailers presently lack Commerce Clause protection from state laws discriminating against direct shipment of out-of-state wine. Thus, this Comment argues that Washington should follow the example of Oregon and enact legislation amending RCW 66.24.170 to clearly license virtual wineries as producers.

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