Maryland Wineries Fear Restrictions in Direct Shipping Bill
By Scott Graham
Baltimore Business Journal,Staff
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
A funny thing happened on the way to swift approval this year of direct shipment of wine to Marylanders — the state’s powerful alcoholic beverage lobby got involved.
Proponents of legislation that would allow wineries and retailers to mail bottles of wine to customers are now concerned the state’s alcohol lobby could succeed in pushing a provision that would restrict some shipments and could limit consumers’ choices.
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, said the state’s licensed beverage association backs the direct shipping legislation as long as the wine is not already available in Maryland. Such an amendment to any of the three direct wine shipment bills to be heard in Annapolis on Friday would prevent a winery on the Eastern Shore from mailing vino to a customer in Western Maryland.
“That’s a deal-breaker for us,” Atticks said. “This would effectively cut [Maryland wineries] out of the equation.”
Atticks also said the alcohol lobby’s suggestion would be difficult to track, as Maryland doesn’t have a way to know which wines are available in the state at all times.
J. Steven Wise, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, could not be reached for immediate comment.
Maryland wineries and wine connoisseurs have lobbied for several years to allow wineries and retailers located inside and out of Maryland’s borders to mail wine directly to consumers. This would cut a wholesaler and potentially retailer from what is currently permitted for wine sales in the state.
The concept gained momentum earlier this year when Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot released a report that supported in-state and out-of-state wineries to be able to ship directly to buyers. The report also suggested that direct shipment of wine would not increase underage drinking — a common argument made by opponents of direct shipping.
By the end of January, lawmakers had filed bills in the Senate and House of Delegates that would allow wineries and retailers to mail wine directly. Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat who filed the bill in the Senate, said last month that he believed direct wine shipment would be approved in some form this year. He could not be reached for comment.
Del. Jolene Ivey, a Prince George’s County Democrat who cross-filed Raskin’s bill in the House, also could not be reached for comment.
Since Raskin and Ivey filed their companion bills in late January, two other lawmakers in the House have submitted similar — yet also very different — direct wine shipping legislation.
Del. Charles E. Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat, filed a bill that would allow in-state and out-of-state wineries to ship to individuals. But his bill wouldn’t allow retailers to ship wine directly.
Barkley said House Bill 1175 is in response to concerns he has heard from retailers who are worried they might lose business to larger out-of-state wineries or wine merchants.
“We’ve had [no direct shipping] up to now, but the sentiment is to start slowly and see where this goes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Del. Tom Hucker, another Montgomery Democrat, has introduced another direct shipping bill that would permit in-state retailers to mail wine, but not allow out-of-state retailers to ship to Marylanders.
“It just makes sense to give in-state retailers a leg up on the out-of-state retailers like Wine.com,” Hucker said. “And helping the in-state retailers helps to raise taxes and create jobs for the state.”
Hucker, whose bill would permit in-state and out-of-state wineries to ship directly, said his legislation also places tougher restrictions on the labeling and mailing of the product. House Bill 1079 also sets a higher direct wine shipper’s permit fee — $300 versus $100.
Atticks said the Maryland Wineries Association favors any bill that allows for in-state and out-of-state wineries and retailers to ship directly to