February 10, 2006
For Immediate Release
Bill Rohrer

Maryland Wine-Grape Industry Threatened

Can you imagine the government barring a vegetable farmer from selling their fresh produce to the local grocery store and forcing that farmer to sell all produce to a huge wholesaler? Well that is exactly what is happening to the wine industry in Maryland. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer may single handedly crush the farm winery industry by prohibiting wineries from selling wine directly to restaurants and retailers. His actions stem from a Pennsylvania winery that decided to sue Maryland because Maryland wineries could sell directly to restaurants and retailers, and the PA based winery could not. The solution from the Comptrollerís office was to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Local wineries may now have to compete with Kendall Jackson, Yellowtail and other global market type wines to get their local-wine in the restaurant or store down the road. Not only will it gouge the thin profit of wineries, it will eliminate them from the market. Small local wineries are not worth the time of the industry bigwigs who control liquor distribution and reap profits from the government franchise of the forced distribution three-tier system.

The true problem with all this mess is that Maryland continues to operate under the antiquated Prohibition-era regulation of alcohol distribution from a manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer. It hasnít changed because the wholesalers are huge and destroy the competition with money. In 2004 alone, the wholesalers handed out an estimated $97,000 of political contributions. Compare this to states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania or Virginia that operate under government-run ABC stores. When systematic problems surface, they fix it. Those states donít have to take on high dollar liquor lobbyists. By the way, those states have an extremely robust winegrape industry.

The ink is not even dry on the creation of Governor Ehrlichís Wine and Grape Commission and the $100,000 research and development grant the industry was awarded. This is all about to be dismantled. I appeal to Comptroller Schaefer to reconsider his decision and allow for constituent input. I call on Governor Ehrlichís staff, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Legislators and others who have interests in treating farm wineries as Agriculture. Unless Maryland wineries receive this common-sense treatment, they will dissolve along with the benefits of a more diverse agriculture. The exceptional growth seen from wine-grape farms and wineries may be lost entirely, throwing the industry back a decade or more. It is obvious the wine grape industry is an important part of Agriculture and legislation is needed to stop this nonsense. Please join us by supporting Maryland Senate Bill 812, which allows local wines to be directly sold to local markets while resolving the original issue of the Pennsylvania lawsuit.