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Virginia Collector Let Off the Hook for Private Sale

Dana Nigro
Posted: October 7, 1999

The state of Virginia has dropped the charges against a wine lover who was arrested in August for selling one bottle of wine from his private collection. His case was dismissed over a simple quirk in wine labeling: The bottle of Lafite in question doesn't have the word "alcohol" on it.

"I'm a free man," said Mark Phillips, the executive director of the Wine Tasting Association, a nonprofit group that runs wine-tasting classes and events in the Washington, D.C., area. "It was on a technicality, but we'll take it."

In mid-August, the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control charged Phillips with illegally selling an alcoholic beverage without a license. Phillips had offered up some of his private collection of Chateau Lafite Rothschild on his Web site, and he agreed to sell one bottle of the 1991 vintage to an individual who turned out to be an undercover ABC agent. In Virginia, as in many other states, private, unlicensed sales of wine between two unlicensed consumers are prohibited.

However, Phillips' attorney, Bob Battle, got the case dismissed in late September due to a lack of admissible evidence. Testimony from the agents who searched Phillips' home after the wine sale was not allowed because they forgot to read Phillips his rights during the arrest. "All that would have been admitted was one bottle of wine that was sold below retail value," said Battle. "That would have raised a very interesting question: At what point does that statute [on sales of alcohol] kick in when you're talking about a sale not for profit?"

However, another technicality arose. The prosecution did not get the wine analyzed in a laboratory, instead relying on the part of the statute that says a sealed container labeled as containing an alcoholic beverage is sufficient proof. "In this case, the Lafite label -- which is different from anything I've seen bottled in America -- instead of saying '12 percent alcohol by volume' simply said '12 percent volume,' " explained Battle. "The judge made what was a very easy decision -- to come under that statute, it has to say something about alcohol."

Phillips' 12 other bottles of Lafite, which were confiscated during the arrest, were promptly returned to him.

For the past news report on this subject:

  • Aug. 11, 1999
    Virginia Collector Arrested for Selling Bottle From Own Cellar

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