ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate unanimously passed legislation Tuesday that would allow small wineries in the state to continue to sell their wines directly to retailers and restaurants.
Currently, Maryland wineries can distribute their products without going through a wholesaler, but out-of-state wineries cannot. A decision by comptroller William Donald Schaefer would have ended that distinction on June 1, requiring all wineries to go through a distributor.
Winery owners have been in Annapolis in force to lobby for the bill, arguing that that Schaefer’s mandate would put them out of business as they would be forced to shoulder the costs of the wholesalers’ markups.
Schaefer’s decision came in response to a Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down laws in New York and Michigan that favored in-state wineries, as well as a lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania vintner alleging that the Maryland law is unconstitutional.
The bill passed Tuesday, sponsored by Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, would treat small out-of-state wineries with less than 40,000 gallons of annual production the same as small Maryland wineries. Both would be able to sell directly to Maryland’s retailers and restaurants.
Albert M. Copp, president of Woodhall Wine Cellars in Parkton, was on hand for the bill’s passage in the Senate Tuesday.
“Assuming that the House (of Delegates) will go along, it means I can stay in business,” he said after the vote. “I already give up one third of my price to retailers, I can’t afford to give up anymore.”
In 2005, sales of Maryland wine totaled 161,782 gallons, or roughly $8.2 million. Of that, almost 21,000 gallons was sold by wineries directly to retailers. A competing bill, which would have written Schaefer’s ruling into law, is still in a Senate committee.