Juanita Swedenburg; Fought Ban on Interstate Wine Sales

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Juanita Swedenburg, 82, the Middleburg winemaker who won a U.S. Supreme Court battle to allow wine shipments between states, died of congestive heart failure June 9 at her home.

Mrs. Swedenburg, who operated one of Loudoun County's smallest wineries, became the lead plaintiff in a David-vs.-Goliath battle over interstate wine sales after becoming annoyed that she could not ship any of her 2,000 annual cases of wine to customers in New York or Michigan.

She recruited a customer, conservative legal activist Clint Bolick of the Arlington-based Institute for Justice, to take the case. After five years of legal battles, the Supreme Court ruled May 16, 2005, that states that permit in-state wineries to sell directly to consumers may not deny that right to out-of-state producers. The ruling struck down the New York and Michigan laws that so agitated Mrs. Swedenburg and could affect similar laws in six other states.

"New Yorkers drink a lot of wine. And we do have a lot of New Yorkers traveling down here," she told reporters at the time, adding that the laws violated the Constitution's commerce clause.

Mrs. Swedenburg did not take the Constitution for granted. A proud member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she launched the winery with her husband after overseas careers in the Foreign Service. A hard-charging woman whose personality was described as a mix of diplomacy, gruff charm and bullheadedness, Mrs. Swedenburg worked at the business with her husband and their son. They did nearly all the work themselves -- from the fields to the laboratory to the bottling plant behind their little tasting room off Route 50.

The Swedenburgs had been sending their complex cabernet, medium-bodied chardonnay and fruity Riesling to customers across the country for years. But half the states ban such shipments, so after their lawsuit was filed, they sold nearly everything from their 130-acre farm. Someone might try to trick her into an illegal shipment, she worried. The legal opponents were powerful: The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, a trade group, joined with state governments in fighting the legal challenge.

"Wholesalers are scared to death that if direct shipping is allowed, big producers like Kendall Jackson will sell directly to Costco," Mrs. Swedenburg said.

Mrs. Swedenburg's office was decorated with photos of President Bush, and a zebra skin splayed across the floor. She did not own a computer, although her case was expected to accelerate Internet sales of wine.

She was born in Springfield, Ill., and graduated from what is now Illinois State University at Normal. She did graduate work at the University of Miami, the University of Michigan and the University of California at Los Angeles and taught high school English and French. She entered the Foreign Service in 1952 and was assigned to Saigon. She worked in personnel and administration; her future husband, also a Foreign Service officer, was in accounting.

"In those days, it was the Paris of the East, and I was so much a wine novice," she said. "We drank really good 1948 and 1949 Bordeaux and cabernets. It taught me a lot about good wine."

She and Wayne Swedenburg married in 1953 and soon began dreaming about where to retire.

"We talked about either a coffee plantation in Kenya, which was Wayne's idea, or a cattle ranch in Costa Rica, which was mine," she said.

Instead, they came home to the United States and fell in love with Valley View Farm, a working farm since 1762 that was part of Lord Fairfax's holdings. They opened the winery in 1988.

In addition to tending the tasting room for six hours a day, seven days a week, Mrs. Swedenburg read the latest publications on funguses and pests in vineyards. She took time to compare notes with neighbors on the harvest and how to deal with equipment problems.

She was the Virginia Wineries Association person of the year in 2006 and received its lifetime achievement award.

Her husband died in 2004, a year before the Supreme Court ruled on their case.

Survivors include a son, Marc Swedenburg of Middleburg; a brother; and a granddaughter.

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