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Winebits 329: Legal affairs edition

Winebits 329: Legal affairs editionBecause the Wine Curmudgeon is always amused by the legal side of the wine business:

? Blame it on Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has first-hand experience with Utah’s liquor laws, thanks to a story I wrote about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But not even I was ready for this excellent piece of reporting by Nancy Lofholm in The Denver Post. How about eight different liquor licenses? Or that some establishments have to have a barrier between customers and the bartender, and that others don’t — even if they have the same license? But don’t worry too much. Says one Utah tourism official: “We are not the only state with peculiar liquor laws.”

? Scores don’t matter: Or, did a New York judge tell a wine drinker that a high score can’t be the basis for suing about wine quality? There are many ways to interpret the decision, in which a Manhattan judge dismissed a lawsuit (requires free registration) in which a consumer wanted a refund from a wine store because he didn’t like the six bottles of 91-point wine he bought. The judge wrote that wine taste is subjective, and so can’t be the basis for a lawsuit. I know the wine in question, a decent enough bottle of Rioja, but one that’s probably not worth the $12.99 the consumer paid. Damn those scores anyway.

? Questioning three-tier? Or so says this post from the Libation Law blog, analyzing a New Jersey court decision that said “New Jersey’s liquor control laws and regulations must be administered in the light of changing conditions.” Which, of course, is what those of us who want to reform the three-tier system have been saying for years: That a system put in place at the end of Prohibition to keep the mob out of liquor has outlived its reason for being. The decision, which dealt with distributors and how they paid commission, is esoteric, but Ashley Brandt at Libation is optimistic that it “strengthens the argument that a vigilant regulatory system can uncover and prohibit the practices that people claim the three-tiered system was meant to forestall.” The Wine Curmudgeon, with his vast legal experience (a semester of First Amendment law in college) isn’t quite so sure, but who am I to ruin a good mood?

Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel

Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel

Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel

“Hey, kids. Why don’t you try some wine with your smokes?”

Most wine blogs can’t participate in Google’s AdSense network, perhaps the leading on-line ad service. That’s because, as I found out when I applied, we violate its terms of service: “We did not approve your application for the reasons listed below. Issues: Drugs, drug paraphernalia, alcohol, beer or tobacco. … Please remove all drug-related content from your site, then resubmit your application.”

That we’re doing nothing illegal and that we don’t have any drug-related content to remove seems like just another of those wonderful, Google-esque ways the search giant does business: Buying companies to close them, discontinuing popular services, or agreeing with the Chinese government that Internet censorship isn’t such a bad thing.

But Google’s decision to ban wine blogs from AdSense goes deeper than that, speaking to the contradictions inherent in wine and alcohol 80 years after Prohibition, thanks to the NeoDrys, fear of underage drinking, and the three-tier system. Google doesn’t object to wine, as near as I can tell. It just doesn’t want to be responsible for someone buying it who might break the law, because that could lead to nasty publicity, lawsuits, and the besmirching of its good name. More, after the jump:

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The Kentucky grocery store court decision

Which made interesting reading, even for those of us who haven ?t had a law class since the late 1970s. Federal judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that the that Kentucky law that prohibited grocery stores from selling liquor but that allowed drug stores to do so was unconstitutional. Heyburn wrote that it seemed kind of silly that ?a grocery-selling drugstore like Walgreens may sell wine and liquor, but a pharmaceutical-selling grocery store like Kroger cannot. ?

That ?s the good news for those who want to see wine sold in grocery stores in the 19 or so states where it ?s illegal. The bad news, as my pal and attorney Lou Bright (one of the top liquor lawyers in the country) told me, is that the decision will have almost no effect anywhere but in Kentucky, given how unique the state ?s law is.

In addition, Lou said, the distinction between which stores could sell liquor and which couldn ?t ?was drawn on a factor that didn ?t have anything to do with the sale of alcoholic beverages or any policy interest related to them. ? So the judge ?s decision was reasonably straightforward.

How often does that happen in liquor law?

Wine names, lawsuits, and being silly

wine name lawsuitsLast week’s post about the Cristal lawsuit that forced Cristalino to change its label because of so-called confusion over the latter’s name was hugely popular, and the Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to give his visitors more of what they want. So I called my old pal, the well-known trademark and trade dress attorney, A.M.B. Chaser, to ask her what else might be on the wine name litigation front.

“Frankly, Jeff,” she said, “I’m jealous of the attorneys who worked the Cristalino case for Cristal. Talk about genius. To say nothing of the fees they generated from something as simple as that.”

After the jump, Chaser’s analysis of potential lawsuits:

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