The Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals recently decided that North Carolina’s former Wine Distribution Act did not require that a wholesaler used by an importer of foreign wine must be used by a new importer of that wine. Country Vintner of N.C., LLC v. E & J Gallo Winery, Inc., No. 10-2289 (4th Cir., January 6, 2012). Wine from Bodegas Esmeralda, an Argentinean winery, was being imported into the United States by Billington Imports, which in turn used Country Vintner of North Carolina as its exclusive North Carolina wholesaler for the wine. Bodegas Esmeralda then switched its importer to E & J Gallo. After the switch Gallo began using its own wholesaler network, as opposed to Country Vintner. The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s conclusion that there had never been a commercial relationship between Gallo and Country Vintner and therefore, Country Vintner had no protections from North Carolina’s Wine Distribution Act. The protections Country Vintner had under the act with Billington Imports were no longer relevant due to the fact that Billington ceased to import the wine.
In 2010, North Carolina amended its Wine Distribution Act to provide a continuation of wholesaler rights upon a succession to importer rights; however, that amendment only applies prospectively. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-1213. Thus, in importer-wholesaler relationships entered into after the 2010 amendment in North Carolina, the holding of this case will not apply. For relationships entered into prior to the change, however, the case provides instructive insight into wholesaler continuation rights in a change of importer situation.
If you’d like to discuss specific distribution issues, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Strike Kerr & Johns.
Alcohol.law Digest is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·
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