New Ohio law would allow wine sales at farmer markets

Most Ohio wineries would be able to offer samples of their wines and sell a limited number of bottles to consumers at farmers markets under legislation approved Jan. 27 by the Ohio House of Representatives.

The house approval — on a 93 to 1 vote — won praise from three local winery owners and a statewide wine-producers organization. The legislation, House Bill 178, will now move to the Ohio Senate, which has not yet scheduled hearings or a vote.

The bill would allow certain wine producers to offer samples and sell bottled wines at farmers markets that obtain a liquor permit in advance of the event. The cost of the license would be $100, but would be good for nine months. Tasting samples would be limited to one ounce or less and no more than five varieties. And the amount of bottled wine that could be sold to each household at the farmers markets would be limited to six standard-sized bottles (4.5 liters).

“We are elated,” said Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association.

“This legislation provides huge opportunities, most especially for the smaller, family owned wineries who are not in general distribution,” Winchell said. “They will be able to participate in their nearby farmers’ markets and take advantage of the ‘buy local’ movements. … It also will benefit the farmers markets, as they will likely draw wine aficionados.”

Joe Schuchter, part of third-generation family ownership and operation of Valley Vineyards near Morrow in Warren County, said he welcomed the news of the Ohio House passage.

“Showcasing a locally grown and produced agricultural product such as wine goes hand in hand with the other items being sold at the markets,” Schuchter said. “The consumer will be able to taste a wine, purchase a bottle, and then build their dinner around it.”

Mike Williams, co-owner of the Winery at Versailles, called the Ohio House vote “both timely and important,” given the rise of the “buy-local” movement across Ohio and the U.S. If the bill is approved in the Ohio Senate and signed into law, Williams said he would seek to “introduce our brand in markets that are currently closed, or are weak in sales.

“We believe that this initiative is a launch pad for continued growth and advancement for our winery and for Ohio wineries in general,” Williams said.

In Greene County, the co-founder of Caesar Creek Vineyards east of Xenia said he believes the legislation “would certainly help our winery quite a bit” if it becomes law.

“Many states have farm market legislation which allows sale of locally in-state-made wine,” said Walter Borda, whose winery opened three years ago, selling only wines produced from estate-grown grapes. “Hopefully there will be some farm markets around Dayton that will want to sponsor some of us local wineries as vendors at their market.”

One of the sponsors of the bill, State Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said the proposal “is common sense legislation that will help small businesses and will have a positive impact on Ohio’s economy.”

The bill, if it become law, “will attract a different consumer base to farmers markets while simultaneously helping Ohio wineries develop and gain name recognition,” Manning said.

Wineries would be prohibited from selling wines that are already offered for distribution by a wholesale distributor. And only wineries that produce less than 250,000 gallons of wine per year would be able to take advantage of the law, as the legislation is currently written.

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