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Statehouse Bill Could Bring Wine to Ohio Farmers’ Markets

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Statehouse Bill Could Bring Wine to Ohio Farmers’ MarketsPhoto via Ohio Wines on Facebook.
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Wine is on the agenda at the Ohio Statehouse as Sen. Gayle Manning and her son, Rep. Nathan Manning, both North Ridgeville Republicans, proposed identical bills this week allowing wine manufacturers to sell their product at Ohio farmers’ markets. The legislation would allow the Division of Liquor Control to issue a one-year, $100 permit to any winemaker who wants to sell bottles or 2-ounce samples of their wine at a farmers’ market.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Markets Directory, there are 313 reported markets in Ohio. As the interest in locally grown food has expanded, the market for locally produced wine has expanded as well. Unfortunately for craft wine manufacturers, selling wine at farmers’ markets under current Ohio law is often too expensive.

Adam Schroeder is the Vice President of the Farmers Market Management Network of Ohio and Manger of the Pearl Market in Downtown Columbus, which opened its 2015 season this week. Schroeder said he’s been following the new legislation from afar and is interested in what it might be able to do for markets and vendors.

“I think with craft wines and craft beers and just the local movement in general, with more and more consumer demand for this type of thing right now, it’s really cost-prohibitive to do wine sales at an event like a farmers’ market, but it looks as if it would be a lot more cost-effective under the new legislation with a $100 permit fee,” said Schroeder.

At the moment, said Schroeder, vendors who want to sell craft wine must obtain a wine and mixed beverage carry out permit, which costs $376 a year.

“Although you would more than likely make that back in your wine sales, by the time you add that into wine production and fuel costs and everything, it’s hard to justify,” said Schroeder.

Usually Schroeder will be asked once or twice every year about whether a farmer or small winery can sell wine at Pearl Market, but it’s often impossible to justify the expensive licensing fees against how many bottles a vendor might be able sell. Schroeder thinks if state lawmakers ease the permit fee, it would likely attract more vendors to his market.

“Obviously we’d have to run it past our board of directors to make sure that it was something they’re okay with, but overall it is something we’d welcome at Pearl Market and I think would go over real well,” said Schroeder. “We’ve had customers ask for a number of years. I started doing this in 2005 and I can remember that first year people asking me if we allowed wine sales because they’d like to be able to grab a bottle of wine on their way out.”

Under the proposed law, permits could only be issued to wine manufacturers if their wine uses at least 51 percent Ohio-grown fruit. Schroeder thinks this requirement could lead to more collaboration between vendors and farmers.

“Fruit trees take a long time to establish so it’s not something that a farmer could just decide to start doing one year and take the whole production in a house their first year,” said Schroeder. “I think there’d be a lot of opportunity for farmers purchasing off of each other and turning that into another value-added, locally-grown, locally-sourced product.”

Schroeder and other market managers across the state are also watching for similar legislation allowing for the sale of craft beer at farmers’ markets. Schroeder thinks that like local food and local wine, local beer is gathering interest among farmers’ market consumers.

“We want it to be a community gathering spot, so we don’t want it to be all about beer and wine,” said Schroeder. “But I think if it’s done responsibly, it definitely has a place and I think customers would love the opportunity to be able to kind of support the local movement even in their beer and wine shopping.”

“We’re just really interested in seeing where it’s going,” added Schroeder. “And if it gives us an opportunity to promote another Ohio, value-added product, we’d love it.”

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