Saturday, February 28, 2009

Same Md. bills, new year, likely same results

One day of hearings, which took place earlier this week in the Maryland legislature, was enough to convince Maryland Wine Association executive director Kevin Atticks that it might take a few more years before anything significant bills finally achieve passage. Right now, Atticks said, the wholesaler and retailer lobby remains in a total position of power . . . "and they know it. And we know it, but it doesn’t make any sense to us."

Two of the bills had to do with allowing direct shipping from wineries to the homes of Maryland residents, and the other would create a special license developing a uniformity around the rules guiding how wineries are permitted to do business. For instance, it would allow the sampling and selling of winery wines at the winery for on- or off-premise consumption, grant permission to hold events and permit it operate seven days a week, among other things.

None of the measures discussed has been vetoed as yet, at least from a quick glance at the legislature's home page. Atticks said he felt the bill for the new license would be sent to the alcohol subcommittee for further discussion and review. Still, he said, the message he heard was a familiar refrain: Leave things alone.

"With everything it’s just a matter of ‘We’re comfortable the way things are, we’re comfortable the way the law is, and thank you for keeping it that way,'" he said. "There’s all these little arguments about specifics of each bill, but they’re hollow arguments." The ultimate message, he said, is that no change is good.

Assuming nothing passes, it leaves the wineries walking in place, not necessarily a bad thing. Several new ones opened last year; more are scheduled to open this year. And, in general, business has been good, or at least the perception is that business is good.

"I think much of our industry at this point is new," Atticks said, "so they are entering the market in a down year and they’re still seeing sales. So their understanding is that business is good and I think it is for the small wineries. The larger wineries [in our state] have seen a noticeable drop through sales in retail stores and sales at the winery."

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