Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Discussions start Wednesday on shipping bill

Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, says he thinks legislation that would allow state wineries to ship their product within the state might be closer to passing than it ever has. How does he know? "The liquor interests are so upset about it," he said by phone the other day. "That can only tell me that it’s getting closer to passage. Usually, they don’t even respond to it but now they’re really upset about it, and it’s the same bill that has been in for 20 years."

The Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee will begin hearing the shipping bill at 1 p.m. Wednesday; five days later it will come before the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee for debate. It would create a direct shipper's license that a winery or retailer can obtain for $100, allowing the licensee (winery or retailer) to ship up to two cases of wine per month to a Maryland consumer. The licensee must label the box with the phrase “CONTAINS ALCOHOL; SIGNATURE OF PERSON AT LEAST AGE 21 YEARS OLD REQUIRED FOR DELIVERY” and pay sales and excise tax to the state annually.

Pushed by a consumer group, it's being opposed by members of the Maryland State License Beverage Association, which is headquartered in Westminster and, among other roles, initiates and supports laws that preserve and protect the rights of responsible alcohol beverage retailers to operate legitimate and lawful businesses. Atticks said his association supports it for a very simple reason. "Every year this comes in because consumers want to put it in and we support it because it’s a no-brainer," he said. "It allows wineries to ship wines to consumers and if customers want wine that way than we want to get it to them that way."

It's one of two pieces of legislation that, if passed, would no doubt have Atticks and his peers toasting for at least a week afterward. The other is a new license called a Class W that would, by county, change the regulations that wineries currently operate under. "It's to create a very clear, well-written piece of law regulating wineries in the local jurisdiction, which currently doesn't exist," Atticks said. Does it exist anywhere in the state, he was asked. "It doesn't," he said. "So wineries are treated as liquor stores currently."

The new license would allow for the sampling and selling of winery wines at the winery for on- or off-premise consumption, allow the business to hold events and allow the winery to operate seven days a week, among other things. Atticks points out that it won't remove the many obstacles that wineries have to cross before they get their license. "But it clears up conflicts like our county law that says you can't sample wine at the winery," he said. "OK, so, state law says you can, the county law says you can't, so we’re trying to create a county law that takes into account the fact that we’re a winery and we’re different than a liquor store. We can only sell what we make, which is different from the liquor store. We have tables and chairs, play music, which is different from a liquor store. It’s all kind of mundane stuff, but it’s become such a problem in some instances that we’re pushing it now."

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