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Supreme Court Ruling Could Uncork New Markets

A Supreme Court ruling that opens the door to more direct wine shipments elated vineyards from Napa to New York but disappointed wholesalers, who cited public concerns about tax collections and underage drinking.

The Associated Press reported that the 5-4 decision issued Monday struck down laws in New York and Michigan as discriminatory because they allow in-state wineries, but not out-of-state businesses, to ship directly to consumers. As many as 24 states now will have to revise their laws so wineries are treated equally.

The winemakers said it would promote Internet sales, leading to lower prices and more choices.

"There's a lot of smiling faces out there," Michaela Rodeno, CEO of St. Supery Winery in Napa Valley, told the AP.

The cha-ching of the cash register isn't ringing just yet, though.

State legislatures will ultimately decide how best to put wineries on equal footing -- either by loosening restrictions to let all wineries sell directly to consumers, or by tightening laws to bar all businesses from doing so.

While the ruling only involves wine sales, industry groups expect it will soon apply to beer and other alcoholic beverages now regulated through state-licensed wholesalers and retailers.

Wholesalers had argued direct shipping would cut tax revenues and give teens unprecedented access to alcohol. They want in-person ID checks before all sales.

On its Web site, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America said it would support strengthening alcohol laws.

"To those who want to eliminate local controls over alcohol, we say: soaring profits should not come before sound public policy," according to the wholesale industry group.

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