Wine: Will Maryland shipping bill survive?
A blog posting on All We Can Eat about the direct wine shipping bill being "still alive in the state Legislature, but on life support":
Wine: Will Maryland shipping bill survive?
If you live in Maryland, shipments like these
from Wine.com can't come to your door. (Associated Press)
Legislation to allow Maryland residents to have wine shipped directly
to their homes is still alive in the state Legislature, but on life
support – and proponents lost a main advocate last week when the head of
a citizens group pushing for direct shipping resigned abruptly.
Adam Borden, executive director of Marylanders
for Better Beer and Wine Laws, resigned Friday afternoon following a
three-hour hearing on direct shipping before the state House of
Delegates Economic Matters Committee. Borden sent an impassioned e-mail
to supporters Monday morning announcing his resignation.
Characteristically, he went down swinging.
"Many in leadership have said that 2010 is NOT the year to debate
wine shipping,” Borden wrote. “Why not, I ask you? Because our leaders
fear angering what is arguably the most generous political patron in the
state at a time that every incumbent Delegate and Senator desperately
needs campaign funds.”
Those campaign funds
come from wine wholesalers who are adamantly opposed to direct shipping,
fearing that such legislation would undermine the traditional
alcohol-beverage distribution system put in place upon repeal of
Prohibition in the 1930s. Borden estimates direct shipping would account
for only about 1 percent of wine sales in Maryland.
Maryland is one of 13 states that prohibit their citizens altogether
from having wine shipped directly to their homes from retailers or
wineries, and efforts to change the law have been repeatedly stymied in
the Maryland Legislature. This year, as I
have reported, Borden was hopeful the bill might pass because a
majority of legislative members signed on as co-sponsors.
But now Borden has changed his tune. He told me he decided to resign
because he – and his aggressive lobbying tactics – had become a
distraction that might hurt the bill's already slim chances of passage.
One delegate complained that Borden had telephoned her mother in an
attempt to wrangle a meeting. “I have been told by several people that
for certain legislators I have become a lightning rod because of the
aggressive grass-roots tactics we have used, and I did not want to give
them an excuse not to vote for the bill,” Borden said.
Those tactics included building the membership ranks of Marylanders
for Better Beer and Wine Laws from 1,500 people to more than 20,000 in
just 15 months. Supporters of direct shipping clogged the fax lines of
such legislators as Senator
Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), chairman of the subcommittee that
would need to approve the bill – and a staunch opponent of direct
shipping. Borden also assiduously courted the media, and his point got
traction on the editorial pages of the Baltimore
Sun and The
The Maryland Wineries
Association also supports direct shipping, but remained neutral this
year because it is pushing for other legislation sponsored by Conway
that will establish a consistent, statewide standard for events that
wineries will be allowed to host. That bill will allow wineries
to sell at farmers markets and to share certain production
facilities, such as bottling lines. Currently, individual counties
restrict whether wineries are able to sell food or even have tables
available for customers to sit at.
Ed Boyce, co-proprietor of Black
Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy and a board member of both MWA and
MBBWL, said Borden's tactics were galvanizing opposition to direct
shipping and distracting attention from the issue's merits. “Direct
shipping would do so much to help our fledgling wine industry,” Boyce
said. “And Adam has brought the issue closer to success than anyone
could have imagined. But he can rub people the wrong way.”
The direct shipping legislation remains before the House Economic
Matters Committee, and Conway has scheduled a hearing on the issue for
March 17. So the issue is not dead for this session, but Boyce is not
optimistic about the bill's chances. “Insiders can block it even though
it has the support of most of the Legislature,” he said. “That's not how
democracy is supposed to work.”
-- Dave McIntyre