Alabama wineries could sell to restaurants, stores if proposed law passes

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ETOWAH COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama lawmakers are in the process of considering a bill that would allow local wineries to take products to market without a distributor.

Currently, the state’s system separates manufacturing, distribution, and retail.

“Wine is perhaps the only agricultural product in the state that a farmer cannot take to market. Soybeans, to cotton, to beef, a farmer can take that directly from farm to market, but with a winery that grows grapes, blueberries, they can’t do that. So that is why this bill is necessary,” said Jones.

Jones’ bill, SB 294, aims to benefit nearly two dozen smaller wineries in the state.

“The bill specifies that a winery that produces 50,000 gallons or less, and uses 50% Alabama grown produce in their wine-making can qualify for this bill and self distribute to restaurants and shops, a limited amount of wine,” said Jones.

Owners of vineyards in north Alabama are excited about the potential to grow their brand and share their product with people across the state.

“We have been working for over 19 years to try to change the laws in Alabama because it is just not conducive to get your wine out the front door,” said Janie Coppey.

Coppey and her husband, Jhan, started growing muscadines about 20 years ago. The couple now operates Wills Creek Vineyards, north of Gadsden.

“I had a bucket list to go around the world and make wine in Portugal, but then I met this lady in Huntsville and that was just like 50 years ago,” said Jhan Coppey.

Most of Wills Farms’ business comes from wine tastings and tourists from the Alabama Wine Trail.

While a smaller distributor is able to help the Coppeys get their product to a few stores, SB 294 would expand the possibilities.

“It will allow us to approach restaurants and other stores who would like to carry our wines but we’ve not been able to get it to them because of that constraint,” said Janie Coppey.

The Coppeys have also been considering making house wine for interested restaurants if the bill passes.

In the nearby town of Hokes Bluff, the owner of Maraella Winery is also optimistic about new business if the measure is passed.

“You have brands that are well known across the country, these distributors can walk in and put it on the counter and they ain’t got to sell it. With a local winery, it would require salesmanship. Going in, letting the retailers taste it, let them understand the story behind that particular winery so this allows us to go do it if we can get the bill passed,” said Scott Lee, owner of Maraella.

Lee is following his father’s vision for the property. It’s now the family business. If he’s able to market his product, Lee hopes to add a sales staff that can market the wine beyond north Alabama.

“We have a small distributor that can handle in a 60-90 mile radius, but to reach those markets like Montgomery, Mobile, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach we need a path. This would allow us that path directly,” said Lee.

The Alabama Wine Trail continues to attract tourists from across the south and winemakers think new laws would be a big boost.

“This will really be really a milestone and a boon I think to the wine industry in Alabama,” said Janie Coppey.

During this legislative session, Coppey hopes lawmakers will also take up a bill that will allow for the sale of wine at festivals. Currently, that’s not an option.

According to Jones, SB 294 passed the state Senate this week and will now head to the Alabama House of Representatives.

If it passes the house, the bill would head to Governor Kay Ivey for a signature.

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