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From Vineyard, To Table...To Law Firm?

Welcome to fall, everyone!! It’s been a lengthy hiatus from the blog as summer months were consumed with oodles upon oodles of interesting work projects, consultations, and the planning of weddings for two members of the RS & E group. Let’s get the new season rolling with a new entry, shall we?

I’m going to take a moment to disclose something that isn’t a very well-kept secret to those who know me—I love food. And wine. And will delight in the consumption of both. I find that my love of good food and beverages is enhanced even more when that consumption includes my family and friends—who, coincidentally, also revel in the awesomeness that is good food and great wine.

Recently, I was able to participate in a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs dinner with a wonderful law school friend of mine named Claire.* This was one of several culinary field trips that we took, which always included fun conversation, some reminiscing about law school, and our wish list of restaurants and wineries to go to in the near future. As part of our Chaîne des Rôtisseurs dinner, we headed up to Boulder, Colorado to have what I’ll call a two-stage dinner: the first stage involved an on-site visit to the farm that grew and cultivated all of the food that we ended up eating during the second stage of our evening—a five-course meal at the chef-turned-farmer’s restaurant called Black Cat. The chef/farmer, a divine young man by the name of Eric Skokan, grows everything that you will eat in the restaurant. In addition, what you’re eating during your meal was most likely picked out of the ground that same day—within an eight hour period of time. To learn a bit more about Chef Skokan, his farm, and his delightful restaurant, click here.

Our meal...everything came from Chef Skokan's farm approximately 10 miles away from the restaurant.

During my time on the farm and at the restaurant, I was able to talk with Eric and his staff about how incorporating every aspect of cultivation, menu planning, and wine service into a successful restaurant was possible. At the end of the day, the overwhelming answer was that a superhuman amount of attention to detail had to be implemented to ensure that everything was not only delicious, was field-to-fork fresh, but also….legal. Legal from an agricultural perspective (what can and cannot be used on an organic farm to maintain the legal distinction of being ‘organically grown’), from a water allocation perspective (acquisition of water rights, diverting only the amount that you’re allotted, and storing the allocated water properly), and also from a viticulture perspective. Wine is usually one of those beverages that folks mistakenly believe are ‘regulation free’ and precluded from legal scrutiny. However, the opposite is true—wine has to comport to not only state and federal laws, but also municipal regulations as well as another series of legal protections called an appellation. Appellations are geographic indications that are utilized to identify the location of origin of wine grapes. Appellation protections are also used to place limits on the types of grapes that can be grown in a particular region, the yields that can be harvested during a particular timeframe, the alcohol level of the wine produced after fermentation and processing, and other quality-specific limitations. We see these appellation limits in practice often—for instance, champagne cannot be called champagne unless those grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France.

A wine flight of reds and whites that were served as part of our meal.

Colorado enjoys a robust wine growing region along the western slope of our state, and New Mexico is becoming a larger player in the wine market from both a wine growing and winery standpoint. And, not to be outdone, North Dakota—our other state in which we maintain a legal practice—has no active vineyards, but they do have eight wineries in the state. This demonstrates that the legal issues surrounding viticulture and distribution of wine will expand as more states engage in this area of agriculture and commerce.

Our time at the Black Cat Farm reiterated once again the growing influence of agriculture and viticulture on the legal landscape. As lawyers, I see a heightened responsibility on us to stay on top of these developments and learn as much as we can about the full panoply of issues—and creative solutions—that we will apply to the intersection of food, wine, and the law. My guess is that it will be a very delicious learning curve!

That’s all from the dispatch for now. We’ll see you for the next iteration of our Dispatches from the West!

Until next time,

Your friends at the RS & E Group

*Claire also is the author and curator of a very informative food blog called Simply Sweet Justice. Her blog, recipes, and insight into all things culinary perfection--including her amazing-sauce macarons--can be found here

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