By LAUREN WALKER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Farmers markets and wineries are lifting their glasses to toast a bill that would promote wine sales.
The sponsor, Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, said that allowing tasting and sales of wine at farmers markets would give customers more access to wineries that are off the beaten path.
The legislation would authorize a special license for Michigan-owned wineries.
Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council program director Linda Jones sees the bill proposal as part of the natural evolution of market access that wineries face.
“Michigan wineries are looking for places to promote their product, and the traditional places where wine is sold are the retail store and the restaurant,” she said.
“With the tremendous growth of farmers markets in past years, it’s become more apparent that there’s an opportunity to capitalize on the interest in buying local in the farmers market environment with wine,” she said.
The Michigan Farmers Market Association has worked with unsuccessful legislation in the past and director Dru Montri said that allowing wine to be sold at farmers markets is a priority for the association.
She said that Hansen’s bill will require careful review and comparison with other states that allow wines sales at farmers markets, like New York and Iowa.
She added that emphasizing the proposal’s impact on small business development and entrepreneurship could help it gain momentum in the current economic climate.
Stoney Acres Winery business manager Amy Gagnon said that although selling at farmers markets may seem appealing at first, wineries — especially smaller ones — must consider the costs involved.
Stoney Acres Winery is in Alpena.
She said her primary concern is the license fee for 20 nonconsecutive days at $25 per day.
“I think this is another way to put a tax in there because the government’s hurting and they realize the wine industry in Michigan is growing,” she said.
“I could have another tasting room that could be opened regularly that would only cost me $100 a year for another license. This would cost me $500 for 20 days. That’s expensive,” she said.
Advocates of the bill, such as Ludington Farmers Market coordinator Heather Venzke, say the measure would be a win-win for everyone because it would bring more public attention to local industries.
Two of the state’s 80 wineries are in Mason County.
Georgaphically, wineries are scattered from Blissfield to Berrien Springs to the Leelanau Peninsula to Cheboygan to Carsonville, with three in the Upper Peninsula.
“The more exposure that any local products, including wineries, get, the more business they get and the more people they employ,” she said.
Venzke said that if the bill becomes law, she will likely try to recruit local wineries to participate.
In the United States, Michigan ranks 13th in wine production. And with a growth rate of 10 to 15 percent a year, it’s one of the fastest-growing agriculture industries in the state, according to the council.
Michigan’s wineries produce more than 1 million gallons of wine, attract more than 800,000 tourists and contribute more than $300 million annually, according to council.
Hansen said that wine production will foster Michigan’s agritourism industry and secure the state’s position as a culinary destination.
“Every year our wineries are getting better. They’re learning more about the grapes that they produce, which means the better the product,” Hansen said.
“We are going to be big in wine, and if we can become big in culinary, marrying them together would be an absolute plus,” he said.
The bill is pending in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.