Farmers Testify In Support Of Winery Bill
Farmers expressed support Wednesday for legislation to help small farm wineries legally sell their products at retail stores.
Tallapoosa County farmer Vickie Watkins of Whippoorwill Vineyards in Notasulga was among those who spoke in favor of SB 234 during a public hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
“This bill is vital to the survival of Alabama small farm wineries,” she said. “It will also benefit Alabama’s agritourism industry as well as promote a farm-to-table product.”
Under existing law, producers of alcoholic beverages may only sell to distributors or directly to consumers in limited quantities at the production facility. SB 234 would allow wineries licensed by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board to self-distribute table wines to licensed retailers and sell directly to consumers.
The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, who chairs the Senate Ag Committee. Whatley said he expects the committee to vote on the measure next Wednesday.
SB 234 defines a “small winery” as one that produces less than 100,000 gallons of table wine a year and uses at least 50% fruit grown in Alabama or has at least five acres dedicated to growing fruit. It also requires at least 50% of the wine be produced at the winery location. Small farm wineries would be required to collect and remit applicable taxes.
Farm wineries currently experience marketing challenges because they often produce too much product to sell on premises but not enough to attract the interest of distributors.
Alabama Farmers Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Preston Roberts said the small farm winery bill demonstrates how the organization works to address farmer needs.
“It’s a great example of our grassroots policy process,” Roberts said. “Vickie and other farmers brought this issue to the Federation’s attention through a resolution at the county level. The new policy was reviewed by the Policy Development Committee and approved at the annual meeting by our 500 voting delegates. We are now working on solutions to help them market their products.”