What’s Wine Law?
Unfortunately, I’m not referring to a secret, separate legal system for wine and those who make a living in the industry (although, a reality show called “Wine Court” would make for a good television). What I refer to as “wine law” is really a collection – a really big collection – of legal issues in many different areas and involving many different government agencies. Wineries, growers, vintners, distributors, and the numerous vendors and suppliers that support them are unique in that the wine industry touches on more areas of law than just about any industry out there.
The obvious areas include permits and licensing, regulatory compliance, labeling, and the three-tier system for distribution. Just these typical legal areas are made up of a complex web of federal, state, and local laws and ordinances that cause the eyes of the uninitiated to glaze over.
But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Before even planting a vine or harvesting a grape, a winery business may encounter property, real estate, land use, or water rights issues. There may be entity formation questions, and financing, construction, or development issues. Complicated environmental and agriculture regulatory concerns may arise. To get the operation underway and closer to bottling and selling wine, the winery will certainly run into issues related to employment law, taxes, health law, trademark and intellectual property, insurance, risk mitigation, or other business law issues.
Once that winery business gains some steam, things will get even more elaborate. The winery may wish to enter into more complex supplier, distribution, direct shipping, or vendor contracts, or enter into arrangements to collaborate with other businesses. It may tackle immigration issues for a growing staff or may investigate e-commerce opportunities. Perhaps a merger, acquisition, or sale of the business is the next step, or a stakeholder is beginning to wonder about business succession or estate planning.
Each of these listed areas of law could be broken down further into specific niche subparts. Now that I think about it, this article would have been much shorter if I simply listed the areas of law that the wine industry doesn’t touch – international space law perhaps?
The Michigan Wine Collaborative and its members are an excellent resource when a new legal issue rears its ugly head and the question presented is “where do I start?” Every month, the Collaborative’s newsletter will include a short article by yours truly briefly discussing one of these issues or another topic where wine meets law.
Howard and Howard is a proud sponsor of the Collaborative. Just like no one person can be an expert in everything from grape growing to marketing to filing business taxes, no one lawyer can be an expert on all the above-referenced topics either. My partners and I at Howard & Howard, a business law firm, come from an array of business backgrounds, with diverse experiences, and unique practice areas. We would be honored to help your business navigate this complicated legal environment, so that you can continue to make the Michigan wine industry what it has become and beyond.