Grapes of wrath
Grapes of wrath
State lawmakers support bill that would permit county wineries; direct wine shipment measure on hold
Prince George's County farmers and wine-loving residents may soon raise
their glasses to state lawmakers, who are set to approve an overhaul of
state alcohol laws that would permit wineries to operate in the county
for the first time.
But a separate bill that would allow for the direct shipment of wine in
Maryland has been met with more resistance, and supporters say it is
unlikely to pass during the legislative session that ends April 12.
The Winery Modernization Act is awaiting final approval from state
lawmakers, who voted for it unanimously in the House on March 20 and in
the Senate on March 24. However, an amendment calling for a study of
how other states have handled direct shipment was added to the Senate
version, so both chambers must review the bill.
The bill would, among other things, standardize the process of applying
for a license to operate a winery and trump county-specific licensing
laws. State law previously prohibited Prince George's County from
issuing the licenses needed to start a winery.
The Prince George's County Council paved the way for wineries in
November when it changed county zoning statutes to include wineries as
a permitted activity in residential areas zoned for agricultural use.
Changing state licensing laws was the last step, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.
"This is the first major overhaul of wine laws," Atticks said. "If it passes, we're going to be awful proud of it."
Brandywine farmer Gordon Gemeny, who has expressed interest in starting
a winery on his 200-acre farm, said he is ready to start pulling
together financing and figuring out the logistics if the bill passes.
"I'm very optimistic," he said, noting that the Senate version was
sponsored by a majority of members and that it had received strong
support from House members as well.
The bill would also allow local wineries to sell their product at
farmer's markets and clarifies what activities are permitted on the
premises of a winery, from selling food to offering samples.
The second major wine-related initiative would allow for the direct
shipment of wine in Maryland, but it is still in committee and
supporters say they do not believe it will come up for a vote before
the session ends.
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 minors to have access to alcohol.
Paul Hoffstein, interim director of Marylanders for Better Beer and
Wine Laws, which has been a leading proponent of direct shipment, said
he and his supporters are disappointed but plan to reintroduce the
issue next session.
Hoffstein said the one success for direct shipment supporters is that
the amendment attached to the Senate version of the Winery
Modernization Act would require the State Comptroller to conduct a
study of best practices in the 37 states that permit direct shipment
for future consideration.
In order for the bill to pass, House lawmakers must either approve the amendment or the Senate must vote to remove it.