IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since our original post, The Maryland Wineries Association is now working with Delegate Miller and the MSLBA to draft new language for HB-742. Delegate Miller did not intend to hurt Maryland wineries and I trust that a positive compromise will be reached. It appears that our voices have been heard! Thank you for your activism. This seems like a great example of how the local democratic process can and should function. We remain hopeful toward our vision to put Maryland wine on the world map!
As many of you saw on Facebook and Instagram yesterday, I spent President's Day in Annapolis testifying against a piece of proposed legislation. This was the first time I've ever provided personal testimony and I typically wouldn’t get involved in such a thing except that our family farm – and many others like it – would be devastated if this bill passes into law as written.
I know that there are always two sides (or more) to an issue. I’m not out to impugn the sponsor of the bill as I understand that bills are often drafted with reasonable intentions. But I also know that unintended consequences can sometimes be overlooked. In this case, the results would put a significant number of Maryland farmers out of business.
The particular bill that brought me to Annapolis is House Bill 742 – brought forth by Delegate Warren Miller from Howard County on behalf of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association (MSLBA).
Bottom line: This bill would put 25 Maryland wineries out of business on day 1.
The proposed legislation states that a farm winery license may only be issued to “a location that has as its principal purpose the production of wine.” This doesn’t seem unreasonable at face value, especially to public servants who are unaware of how Maryland farm wineries actually operate, but it would hang local farms and farmers out to dry.
Beyond Old Westminster Winery – the flagship vineyard that our family “bet the farm on” and poured our lives into – we also own Maryland Wine Cellars, a full-service winemaking facility that other area vineyards rely on to produce wines from their local farm produce. They send us their grapes for production, bottling, and labeling, and then we send it back ready to market in their tasting rooms. It’s a cost-saving resource that local vineyards have built their businesses on. This bill would undo years of work, time, and financial investment. The farm wineries that rely on our space, equipment and expertise would be forced to either come up with millions of dollars to build and equip their own winemaking facility, or go out of business. The current cooperative environment we all benefit from would cease to exist.
So I spent six hours listening to bill after bill waiting for HB-742 to be heard. When it was finally called, I had the opportunity to step up to the table and share my testimony before the Economic Matters Committee. I told the story of Old Westminster Winery and how we’re a family business run by three siblings and our parents, a local farm that relies on the land and the commodity that we produce, and how this bill would put us – and 25 others like us – right out of business.
I truly believe this is a perfect example of a bill drafted with reasonable intentions, yet loaded with unintended consequences. In fact, after I testified, Delegate Miller (the sponsor of the bill) was surprised to learn of the widespread impact his bill would have.
The reality is that many legislators are completely unaware of what grape growers and winemakers do, making it necessary to write this piece.
You see, wine is made in the vineyard. Grapes are grown on farms. We are farmers. We work hard to make a living, create jobs, support local commerce, and enhance the quality of life for a lot of Marylanders.
It’s honest work, old school agriculture, and an ancient business model that supports rural economies. We generate a significant amount of tax revenue from our wines and contribute to Maryland tourism. We also benefit other local shops, restaurants, and hotels. We’re proud Marylanders who have a passion for putting Maryland wine on the world map and being a blessing to a lot of locals in the process.
While I understand the intent of house bill 742 – to clearly define a “farm winery” – I believe it’s imperative that we do this in a way that preserves farms, creates jobs, and supports local agro-tourism. The raw truth is that this bill will put many good old-fashioned farmers straight out of business and undo everything we’ve worked so diligently to achieve over the past 10 years.
One of the lessons I learned during the testimony process is that citizens can, in fact, persuade the legislature by thoughtfully and respectfully presenting concerns. Consider letting delegate Miller know that you support Maryland wineries. Let him know that you care about local farmers, jobs, and the Maryland agricultural economy.
Here's the link if you care to write Delegate Miller: http://www.miller4delegate.com/contact.html