A Federal Appeals Court decision has given US wine producers another chance to challenge laws in Florida which prohibit direct sales of wine. The case forms part of a national campaign by wineries, in particular smaller producers, to challenge state controls on direct distribution.

The Federal Appeals Court ordered a Tampa judge to consider further evidence and make a second ruling on whether state rules are constitutional. So far, five lawsuits on similar state controls have produced rulings both for and against on appeal.

Winemakers want to expand direct sales beyond the 24 states where they are already allowed while alcohol wholesalers and retailers are looking to protect the classic three-tier distribution system which has been an enforced norm in the US alcohol business for many years. Wholesalers and retailers have already seen their business affected by telesales and mail order and latterly by the advent of e-tailing.

In a recent suit brought by six Sarasota County wine collectors and wineries, a three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled against Florida liquor regulators. The court said that the state must justify treating out-of-state wineries differently from in-state producers which are allowed to ship directly to consumers with a special licence.

In other cases, federal judges have ruled that similar laws banning direct distribution in North Carolina, Texas and Virginia are unconstitutional but similar restrictions have been upheld in Michigan. A similar case is pending in New York.