GADSDEN, Ala. — Supporters of Alabama wine production want to uncork the potential for increased sales and tourism. But for now, Alabama laws are keeping a cap on that growth, wine producers say.
Jahn Coppey's Wills Creek Winery is a member of the Alabama Wine Trail, as is Maraella Winery in Hokes Bluff. Coppey said the 14 members want a better shot at selling their product to broader audiences.
As the law stands now, Coppey and other wine producers can take their product to a wine festival — such as the one on the Alabama coast — and give away samples of the wines they produce.
But they can't sell there. If a taster wants to buy wine to take home, Coppey said, he would have to send them the length of the state, back to Duck Springs to make their purchases.
According to the website for the Alabama Wine Trail, state law keeps the market "at arm's length for small wineries." Wineries are allowed to sell from one tasting room, Coppey said.
State law says no manufacturer can sell table wine direct to a retailer or for on-premises consumption. Manufacturers can't operate other locations in the state to sell their wines, aside from the place covered by its license. Table wine produced in Alabama can be sold directly at retail only on the manufacturer's premise, for on-premise or off-premise consumption.
Coppey said the law hinders the ability of wine producers to get their products in stores and out before the public.
Efforts are under way to promote the Alabama Wine Trail and the products of its member wineries, he said. Winefestivals would be a great way to bring in wine lovers and introduce them to a number of the state's wines at once.
However, Coppey said, it's hard to go and contribute your wares at a festival, giving away your product, when you are not afforded the opportunity to sell it there.
"Most people who taste want to buy," he said. "They don't want to have to be sent to a store."
State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow tastings of wines and distilled liquors in stores licensed to sell liquor for off-premises consumption and in state liquor stores. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would regulate the procedure for the tasting of wine and distilled liquor.
Nordgren said she's introduced legislation before that would give wineries more leniency in marketing their products, allowing for off-site tasting rooms. She said in the last session, that proposed bill went to a committee for study.
She's optimistic the committee will approve a bill that will allow wine producers to maximize the potential of their vineyards, and to let the state grow its wine-tourism business.
"I don't understand the resistance," Nordgren said. "I don't see why the ABC Board can't license festivals to allow sales," she said. "I do believe wine festivals would bring in tourists."
Alabama ABC Board Government Retail Manager Dean Argo said it could take some changes in ABC regulations and some legislative changes to give wineries and distilleries the kind of marketing flexibility they desire. The ABC Board does not have "a dog in the fight," he said, and this year lawmakers might make some changes.
Argo said the ABC Board was established in 1937 to regulate the sale of alcohol. Federal prohibition had ended in 1933, leaving it to the states to regulate alcohol sales as they saw fit.
After a few years without controls, Argo said, state leaders decided regulation was needed. As the ABC Board's website explains it, the people of Alabama decided they didn't want alcoholic beverages sold the same way soft drinks and soups were sold.
Still, Argo said, the regulations were put in place a long time ago, and it could be time for lawmakers to look at making changes.