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Michigan Attorney General sues Napa Valley's Castello di Amorosa over illegal wine shipments

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: June 5, 2021 series
Castello di Amorosa lawsuit

Michigan's attorney general this month filed a lawsuit against Castello di Amorosa, pictured here, for illegal wine shipments made by the winery to consumers over the last four years.

Napa Valley-based producer Castello di Amorosa has illegally sent more than 621 wine shipments to consumers in the state of Michigan, a lawsuit filed by Michigan’s Attorney General alleges.

The suit, filed at the beginning of May in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges Castello di Amorosa over at least the last four years has shipped wine directly to consumers in the state without the proper license required to do so.

Out-of-state wineries are permitted to ship up to 1,500 cases (or 13,500 liters) of wine to consumers in Michigan in a calendar year if they have received a Direct Shipper license from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, according to state regulations. Licensees pay a one-time $70 inspection fee, a $100 annual fee and are required to pay applicable taxes to the state quarterly, according to the MLCC’s website.

The MLCC received a report from the United Parcel Service (UPS) in November 2018 showing Castello di Amorosa had sent 621 shipments to consumers in Michigan in 2017 without a license, according to the lawsuit. The state’s Department of Attorney General ultimately sent a cease and desist letter to the winery in December 2019, which was received and signed by Castello di Amorosa’s wine club manager, the suit notes.

But additional reports made by UPS between January and June of 2020 and reviewed by an MLCC investigator showed the winery had continued to ship wine into the state illegally, according to the lawsuit. An MLCC investigator ordered a bottle of wine from Castello di Amorosa in October 2020 and had the order fulfilled, the complaint notes.

A spokesperson for Castello di Amorosa declined to comment on the suit.

Attorney General Dana Nessel has requested a judge grant a “preliminary and permanent” injunction to stop the winery from making additional shipments to the state, the lawsuit shows. Nessel also seeks “the imposition of civil penalties … specifically $25,000 for each violation” of Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act, which the winery violated by shipping wine into the state without a Direct Shipper license.

It was not immediately clear whether each of the individual shipments – more than 621 of them – would constitute a violation. (That fee, taking into account each of the hundreds of shipments, would amount to more than $15.5 million.) A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Attorney General declined to clarify Friday, citing a department policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The MLCC began cracking down on “unlicensed entities” illegally shipping and selling beer and wine in the state in 2015, the suit notes. Nessel filed the suit against Castello di Amorosa in tandem with three other similar suits against wine producers in Oregon, West Virginia, and New York City, the North Bay Business Journal reported.

In October 2020, Nessel sued the Vintner’s Collective, another Napa Valley-based producer, over illegal wine shipments. Vintner’s Collective also failed to comply with a cease and desist letter, according to the state’s Department of Attorney General. Vintner’s Collective was ultimately ordered to pay $10,000 to the Michigan Department of Attorney General. 

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Wine Industry Reporter

Wine industry reporter at the Napa Valley Register.

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