California Wineries Allege Unequal Treatment in Reopening Roadmap

Winery Caymus Vineyards is suing California Governor Gavin Newsom and California State Public Health Officer Sonia Angell over the classification of wineries in the wake of reopening regulations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vineyard disputed released new guidance on reopening the state’s business and industry in a safe manner.

This Phase 2 reopening guidance specifically indicates: “Brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries should remain closed until those establishments are allowed to resume modified or full operation unless they are offering sit-down, dine-in meals. Alcohol can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal” In addition to the limitations, the guidance includes reasoning why the industries have been selected for each stage of reopening, including necessity to the health and safety of the community, physical constraints of the industry, and likelihood of large crowds or other events suited to the spread of COVID-19.

Wineries and tasting rooms, such as Caymus Vineyards, fall into a grey area within the guidance. The guidance indicates that if a tasting room offers a meal in addition to the alcoholic beverage, the tasting room may reopen. However, local ordinances for Napa Valley prohibit the sale of food in conjunction with tasting room activities. While the local government has taken steps to facilitate the reopening of tasting rooms to general commerce, it has not rescinded the requirements regarding food sales, which have forced the tasting rooms into the same category of commerce as breweries, pubs, and sporting events, which will not be permitted to reopen in the near future. Caymus Vineyards protests this classification and restriction, arguing that by design tasting rooms lack the large crowds and crowded indoor environments of these riskier enterprises. They also argue that due to the limited menu and sealed nature of the beverages being offered, the tasting room is in many ways a safer environment than the restaurants that are being permitted to reopen in Phase 2.

Caymus Vineyards alleged violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the similar California Constitution Article I § 7, due to uneven treatment of the business in comparison to those in similar circumstances; They similarly alleged violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as the new restrictions provide no means of challenging or reconsidering the classifications of the businesses. Finally, the plaintiff alleged violations of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the similar California Constitution Article 1 § 19 , by restricting the business opportunities of the vineyard to the extent that they cannot conduct their legitimate business. Caymus Vineyards requests the tasting rooms be named to the list of business entities permitted to reopen in Phase 2, provided that the local government retains the certification of readiness to reopen in Phase 2.

The plaintiffs are represented by Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass.