The Grapes of Wrath: Encouraging Fruitful Collaborations Between Local Governments and Farm Wineries in the Commonwealth

The Grapes of Wrath: Encouraging Fruitful Collaborations Between Local Governments and Farm Wineries in the Commonwealth

By Philip Carter Strother and Andrew E. Tarne

“It must be a bad heart, indeed, that is not rendered more cheerful and more generous by a few glasses of wine.”

The United States has a complicated history with wine, beer, and spirits. Indeed, the prohibition of alcohol is the only regulation directed personally at individuals that has ever made it into
the Constitution, albeit for a relatively short period of time.

The history of America’s relationship with the fruit of the vine, however, is far more nuanced than national prohibition and repeal. Wine, for example, has been in Virginia’s blood for over four centuries, ever since the first ships navigated the James River in 1607.3 From the House of Burgesses’ first decree for the cultivation of grape vines to the modern Virginia Farm Winery Zoning Act, wine has been a subject of lawmaking in the Old Dominion.

The legal status of the wine industry and its product has changed over the years, traversing a wavelength that takes it, as Richard Mendelson describes, “from demon to darling.” Many have already written on the subject of wine law in the United States and particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

This essay will add to the growing corpus of wine law, with a scope roughly limited to discussing the relationship of wineries to the localities in which they are situated. With Virginia’s wine industry growing at astounding rates, so too are regulations of that industry at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. While there is fairly substantial federal regulation in the field of wine law, this essay’s scope will be limited to the interplay of Virginia’s state and local laws that affect wineries close to home. Within that scope, this essay’s purpose is threefold.

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