A Half-Full Glass for Wineries

The rejected special license would have allowed wineries to serve food and offer wine samples.
The rejected special license would have allowed wineries to serve food and offer wine samples. (2006 Photo By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009

A special license allowing all wineries in Maryland to serve food, offer wine samples without a fee and hold special events was rejected by the 2009 General Assembly. But lawmakers did allow Calvert County wineries to begin having stands at some farmers markets and special events.

Regulations governing state wineries vary from county to county. There are different rules, for example, about being open on Sundays or serving a full bottle vs. a sample of wine.

The Class W series of bills considered by the legislature would have created a set of statewide rules, ideally eliminating some of the confusion about regulations, state wine industry officials said.

"It is hard for a small business to create a business model under the current law. Too many things are left up to interpretation," Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, said during a visit Thursday to Friday's Creek Winery in Owings with state Comptroller Peter Franchot and others.

Billy Peacock, winemaker at Prince Frederick's Running Hare Vineyards, said confusion about regulations has held back his winery.

"A lot of the rules we have now are really restrictive," he said. "The Class W would have opened it up to actually make a living."

Franchot and others said vineyard owners, tourism officials and others should push for a bill in next year's session that would change some of the "medieval" approaches to the alcohol industry in Maryland. Franchot, whose office oversees the state's alcohol industry, said wineries and vineyards create jobs and boost tourism. The wine industry "could grow exponentially if we let it," Franchot said.

Regulations governing the alcohol industry focus on manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers but not wineries. Among other things, not being able to ship wines within Maryland creates problems for wineries, said Frank Cleary Jr., an owner of Friday's Creek.

The 2009 General Assembly did, however, pass legislation permitting beer, wine and spirits tastings at some farmers markets and special events in Southern Maryland.

"The purpose of the bill to sell at farmers markets is to give a local business a shot at making it. The more opportunity to make sales, the better," Del. Sue P. Kullen (D-Calvert) said.

Diane Burr, North Beach special events chairwoman, said the town is thrilled to add wineries to its Friday night markets.

"I think this just adds to our atmosphere and supports the Maryland wineries that are really coming into their own," Burr said.

Joyce Baki, Calvert County's tourism specialist, said the recent legislation will allow Calvert's five wineries to participate in All Saints Episcopal Church's Wine and Arts Festival next month.

Winemaking has occurred in Maryland since the Colonial days, but most of the industry's growth has occurred since the early 1980s. Today, Maryland has at least 20 wineries, with several more planned. Many are family owned and operated.

"We used to call tobacco the money crop," Baki said. "This can be a new money crop for us."

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