Merchants are upset over death of wine shipping bill

The Frederick News Post posted the article below about members of the local wine industry who are upset that "a law that would allow purchased wine to be shipped directly to homes was shot down recently by state lawmakers":

Merchants are upset over death of wine shipping bill
Originally published February 18, 2010

By Ike Wilson

Merchants are upset over death of wine shipping bill

Photo by Staff file photo

Carol Wilson, owner of Elk Run Vineyards, looks up at the many barrels of fermenting wine being stored behind their Mount Airy winery.

A law that would allow purchased wine to be shipped directly to homes was shot down recently by state lawmakers, a move that has upset members of the local wine industry.

The ability to ship bottled wine to homes is legal in 37 states. But Maryland legislators aren't convinced that the measure could work satisfactorily in the Old Line State.

When the bill was filed two weeks ago, it had the support of 106 of the 188 state legislators. But Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the bill, cited potential for underage-buying and problems collecting tax as reasons for opposing the measure.

Carter Conway refused to bring the bill up for a hearing, effectively killing the legislation this year.

There's no way to force delivery agencies to verify the age of the person accepting a package, Carter Conway said.

But supporters of the measure, including Ijamsville resident Tammy Mulford, said lack of legislative support for the law doesn't only limit consumer choice, it also stifles the small wine business because of outdated laws.

"I cannot understand how a few key state legislators can continue to overlook the financial benefits of passing this legislation, especially in these economic times," said Mulford, one of several Frederick County residents who attended a public hearing on the issue in December.

The law would allow the state to collect additional, unrealized sales tax and sales would increase at in-state wineries, Mulford said.

Adam Borden, director of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, a lobbying group, said direct shipping would generate about $1.5 million a year in state and excise taxes.

"We all know the under-age argument is so ridiculous," Mulford said. "I'm surprised they even continue to use it. The fact that they can no longer come up with valid arguments against it, to me proves that there really is no reason to not pass the legislation. Unless of course they are only concerned with lining their own pockets with campaign contributions from the few large wholesalers in the state."

Carol Wilson, owns and operates Elk Run Vineyards, one of several Frederick County wineries.

"All the arguments by Sen. Conroy do not hold water statistically across the country," Wilson said. "Conroy says she has better things to worry about but I thought revenue was a high priority. When will someone question how bills are presented by the head of certain committees? How is that listening to the people? If the current regulatory system works so well how come it is challenged every session? What about progress and keeping up with the times and constituents' desires?"

Wilson said two years of gathering statistics, presenting those numbers to legislators, garnering legislative support and supporting editorials to boot, all seem for nothing.

"It seems the strategy of the committee is if we stall long enough people will give up," Wilson said. "But it just means people will buy their wines and have it shipped to nearby states and we see no revenue. I believe the public has had it. The only alternative is to say it at the polls."

Ensuring shipped wines are not received by minors is a practice in other states, said Jim French, a Frederick County resident who also attended the December public hearing on the measure.

"I am willing to recruit someone from (United Parcel Service) to testify that we are able to control who receives shipments," French said. "Wine that I have received in Virginia is placarded by the shipper, saying it must not be delivered to a person under 21. I know for a fact that UPS drivers are just as strict for their own business security."

There's a need to reveal the underlying conflicts of interest by people who have a financial stake in the old arrangement, French said.

"We also need to demonstrate on one hand that the total sales of directly shipped wine as a fraction of all alcoholic beverage sales is small. On the other hand, the potential growth factor for Maryland wineries could easily approach 100 percent," French said.

Wineries with Permits

Wineries Able to Ship to MD

Here is a link to the Comptroller's website. Search for "DW-Direct Wine Shippers Permit" under permit type.

Search for wineries


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