ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Representatives of Maryland wineries and retailers told a pair of General Assembly committees Friday that direct shipping of wine to consumers will help them stay in business, while doing little to harm mom-and-pop liquor stores.
Advocates of shipping wine directly from merchants and wineries to consumers’ homes argued that the small market they would gain access to would help them immensely.
“We are unlike traditional ‘packaged goods’ stores in that we primarily serve a niche market of wine experts, collectors and connoisseurs seeking very specific wines,” Mitchell Pressman, president of the Wine Merchants Association of Maryland, told the House Economic Matters Committee.
Thirty-six other states allow direct wine-shipping and 12 allow retailers to ship to consumers — many via wine-of-the-month clubs.
Efforts to let wine enthusiasts get their favorite vintages delivered directly have failed over the last two years.
But Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway told lobbyists in February that a modified version of the bill would be approved this year.
A compromise to allow shipping only from wineries was worked out in a pair of undisclosed meetings that Conway convened in February.
“I want to thank you for bringing all the stakeholders together in those meetings,” said Chuck Ferrar, the owner of Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits in Annapolis.
“Were you at those secret meetings?” Conway asked with a laugh.
“Yeah, the secret meetings,” Ferrar said.
Liquor store owners, who operate under strict state liquor laws, said Friday that a flood of out-of-state competition would cut into their bottom line if retailers were allowed to ship directly to consumers.
Steven Wise, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, said major companies with few limitations could harm local businesses. He cited Amazon.com efforts to sell wine online.
“Consider who you’re opening the door to,” Wise said.
But the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said narrowing the scope of who can ship would
undercut the bill.
He said the changes would bow to the liquor lobby “who put this in a guillotine last year, who now want to put it into a straight jacket.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)