Legislation allowing Marylanders to order wine from out of state was defeated in Annapolis this year, but the wine industry is already
preparing to push a bill for direct shipping next year.
While wineries saw the passage of the Winery Modernization Act, which clears up many of the state’s and counties’ regulations about winery
services, direct shipping of wine to and from outside states was defeated again this year. But a mandatory study on direct shipping was
included in the measure — leaving retailers and wineries optimistic about the legislation in the 2011 General Assembly session.
“This is the best year we’ve ever had; we never got out of subcommittee before,” said Paul Hoffstein, interim executive director for
Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws. “But we’re looking very favorably about 2011.”
The study on direct shipping is to be conducted this year by the state comptroller’s office. It will look at the experience of the 37 states that
already allow direct shipping, and how those states collect taxes and prevent underage drinkers from ordering wine. A spokeswoman for the
comptroller said the office will make sure all concerned parties are involved in the study, including retailers and wholesalers.
State wine and beer wholesalers have opposed direct shipment, arguing the current system is effective. Opponents have also expressed
concern that shipping would make it easier for underage drinkers to have access to alcohol.
Nicholas G. Manis, a lobbyist for the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, said he hasn’t considered what he’ll bring to the direct
shipping study yet, but that it will be a big issue in 2011 along with a proposed alcohol tax increase, which also did not pass this year.
The wine shipping measure, listed as House Bill 716 and cross-filed with Senate Bill 566, would have given retailers and wineries the ability to
sell and ship wine out of state, and allow Maryland consumers to order wine from other states. The House version died March 29 in the
Economic Matters Committee, headed by Dereck E. Davis, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, falling one vote short of the 13 needed to
secure a favorable recommendation.
“As a retailer, it only means more business to me,” said Mitchell Pressman, owner of Chesapeake Wine Co. in Canton, adding that the state’s
economy could have benefited from passage of the direct shipping bill.
Supporters of the legislation are also optimistic consumers will be part of the study and decision-making process in 2011.
“We know that our customers desperately want this ability,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director for the Maryland Wineries Association.
The Winery Modernization Act was passed with a unanimous vote in the House of Delegates less than two hours before the General Assembly
session’s end — delayed by attempts to include direct shipping as an amendment. The effort was scrapped in lieu of the comptroller’s study.
“It won’t be just us, a group of industry insiders, deciding what happens, even with an unheralded amount of legislator support,” said Adam
Borden, former executive director of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws. Borden, who resigned as director before the session ended,
said he’ll stay on hand with the group as an adviser.