WASHINGTON -- An elderly Virginia bootlegger has been arrested, again, for illegally making and selling fruit wine at his home.
Six-hundred gallons of the wine -- made of bananas, strawberries and tomatoes, among other fruits -- were stored in the 83-year-old's garage and shed.
James Edward Skinner was arrested in Newport News last week after agents "received complaints pertaining to the illegal manufacture and sale of wine in the home," according to a press statement released by Virginia's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Skinner's grandson, Darrin Skinner, was also arrested. (The grandson's age is given as 44 in the press statement; it's given as 41 in WVEC-TV's account of the arrest.)
The wine came "in various flavors," per the statement, and was sold for $7 or $8 per half-gallon -- that's somewhere between $8,600 and $9,600 worth of wine seized by authorities.
"People seem to think its 'better' because it's homemade," according to Special Agent in Charge Bob Brooks, who communicated his observations to The Huffington Post by email via Virginia ABC spokesperson Maureen Haney:
There is also a certain novelty involved, as there is with moonshine. Illegal wine is not as common as the illegal corn whisky (moonshine) because it’s a more time consuming process. Wine has to be fermented after it is distilled, then strained and fermented again. There was tons of sediment in the wine they seized from the Skinner home on Friday and there is not a lot of quality control.
Brooks noted that "Skinner told officers that he had learned how to make the wine from his father and was still using the same recipe. He makes the wine from all types of fruit including strawberries, bananas, apples, tomatoes, and pretty much anything that is available to him at the time."
Mostly "older retired people" are engaged in this sort of bootlegging, Brooks said through Haney. "Because they are retired, they have the time, and it’s extra income they don’t have to claim on their taxes."
According to numbers provided by the ABC, bootlegging is not a very common engagement among anyone. There were just 12 arrests pertaining to "illegal still investigations" between June 2010 and July 2011. In 1941, by contrast, 1,771 illegal stills were seized.
WVEC-TV reports that Virginia regulators have a handful of problems with the Skinner operation and its ilk, few as they may be:
Agents say it's legal to make your own wine in Virginia, but on such a large scale and as a selling operation, it becomes a nuisance to the neighborhood, can be a safety risk to the consumer, and leads to a loss of tax revenue for the state.
James Skinner has been arrested twice before for bootlegging. He'll be tried in May for an arrest that took place about a year ago, according to court records. That time, more than 670 gallons of wine was seized.
On the VADriven.com message board, someone going by the name of Reloaded said "I kind of feel bad for this old man. He got busted a few months back for the same thing. Guess the state wants their tax money."
To which someone going by the name of Halfrican responded: "Why not just go through the proper channels and get the license at that point."