Report Sets Out Steps to Promote, Aid Md.'s Wineries

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005

Unless you live in Napa Valley -- or in Santa Barbara County after the release of the movie "Sideways" -- you probably don't think of a thriving wine industry as an important engine of economic development. Especially not in Maryland.

But Maryland's wine industry and state lawmakers are working to change that perception.

The Maryland Wine & Grape Advisory Committee, a panel of wine industry officials and policymakers appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Secretary of Agriculture Lewis R. Riley, recently issued a report that found Maryland's wine industry lags behind those of its neighbors Virginia and Pennsylvania.

At stake is more than bragging rights over who can make better Riesling. A thriving wine industry brings in tourists, tax receipts and jobs, and even helps preserve green space, the report said.

Just compare Maryland and Virginia. In 1979, Maryland and Virginia each had a handful of wineries. Today, Maryland has 16; Virginia has 94.

In 2004, Virginia's wine industry produced $95.7 million for the state's economy and generated $8 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the Virginia Wine Marketing Institute. Wineries and vineyards also attracted 500,000 tourists and employ more than 1,000 full- and part-time employees.

Maryland has not compiled comparable data, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.

The Maryland Wine & Grape Advisory Committee report said the disparity between the two states had nothing to do with soil or climate and everything to do with state and local regulations.

In Maryland, it can cost as much as $35,000 in legal fees alone to work out local zoning and licensing issues, the report said. In 2004, regulatory issues were sufficient to drive two sets of potential winery investors to set up shop in neighboring states, the report found.

Among the report's more than 50 recommendations:

• The state should make it easier for wineries to host special events. Wineries are now limited to 12 special event permits per year, compared with five a day, every day of the year in Virginia.

• The University of Maryland should employ a full-time enologist or wine making expert, and a viticulturist, an expert in grape growing, both of whom can provide technical support to wineries and vineyards. At least one state university in Virginia and Pennsylvania has a full-time enologist and viticulturist on staff to assist local wineries and vineyards.

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