There is a bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly which, on the surface, appears to help Indiana wineries.
The Senate approved a measure removing restrictions on in-state shipping by eliminating the face-to-face requirement established in 2006.
But like the old adage ‘no good deed shall go unpunished’ the legislature resorted to its usual ways of big bucks win and stuck it to the state’s smaller wineries. Fortunately, it’s not too late if wine enthusiasts will reach out to their legislators.
Senate Bill 113, sponsored by Phil Boots, Crawfordsville, removed the silly face-to-face requirement. Boots left the licensing fee at a reasonable $100. But in the Public Policy Committee members boosted the fee to $500.
“So for an Indiana winery, we already have to pay a $500 annual Farm Winery Permit, and now in order to ship wine we’ll have to pay for another $500 license,” said Jim Pfeiffer, owner/winemaker at Turtle Run Winery, Corydon.
“The idea behind the $500 license is to discourage direct shipping, especially from wineries outside the state. A few other states have similar laws, such as Missouri and Michigan, two states in which we don’t ship wine due to the cost of procuring their licenses.”
Frankly, I disagree with my friend Jim. The wholesaler lobbying effort could give a hoot about where wine comes from as long as it passes through their hands for their cut.
When I asked Boots if the fee was increased simply to appease the wholesaler’s lobby, he said, “Sure.”
And that lobby makes political contributions, albeit small ones in many cases, to virtually every legislator in the statehouse.
The antiquated three-tier liquor system does nothing but cost Indiana wineries profit. If small Indiana wineries go through a wholesaler, they must significantly reduce the cost of the product so the wholesaler, then retailer, get their cut. If the small winery can ship to your door, they make all the profit. And most wholesalers have little to no interest in carrying Indiana product any way.
If passed, with or without the higher fee, some legislators will brazenly thump their chest for helping out small Indiana business. That is a crock of you know what and Boots agrees.
“There have been a lot of people say ( … the legislature has given then taken away,)” the Crawfordsville legislator said. “That’s the highest license fee in the nation. It will not help the real small guys. They can’t afford that.”
Boots is encouraging supporters to contact House members and get the fee restored to $100. I’ve visited nearly half of Indiana’s 70-something wineries and have learned a few things about the economics. There are probably a very small handful of Indiana wineries which can afford another $500 license.
The committee moved the bill with a 9-0 vote then the full Senate passed it with a 40-10 roll call. It’s now in the House Public Policy Committee.
The public can help by writing members of the House Public Policy committee and their own representative. Thomas Dermody is chairman and Timothy Wesco is vice chairman.
Committee members are Edward Clere, Sean Eberhart, Todd Huston, Matthew Leman, Jim Lucas, Ben Smaltz, Matthew Ubelhor, Philip GiaQuinta, Terri Jo Austin, Charlie Brown and Vanessa Summers.
You can easily find their email and phone numbers on www.iga.in.gov website.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for about 20 Midwestern newspapers. Check out his blog at howardhewitt.net.