Local wineries supporting state legislation

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, March 25, 2010

Legislation currently being considered in the state House and Senate would make it possible for Alabama’s wineries, including the three in Shelby County, to continue their impressive growth.

Burt Patrick, owner of Ozan Winery in Calera and a member of the Alabama Wineries Association, said the state’s current winery law is confusing for Alabama’s 11 wineries.

“Most of us (wineries) in the past five years or so have just gotten established and have really figured out exactly what a winery is in Alabama. We’re all pretty much poised for growth,” he said. “There’s opportunity for growth, and the current law is limiting that growth because it’s not clearly written.”

Patrick said large wine companies, largely based in California, control around 65 percent of the United States’ wine business. Another 26 percent of business goes to imported wine.

“That only leaves somewhere between 6-9 percent of all other wines to be made by everybody else,” he said.

The federal government recognizes small wineries as well as the economic disadvantage facing those wineries. Alabama should follow suit, Patrick said.

The new bill, named the Alabama Small Winery Business Viability Act, would require wineries to conform with federal winery law, define what a small winery is and address business issues related to wineries.

“The bill further explains what a winery is so that everybody can understand what a winery is, as opposed to trying to guess what it is,” Patrick said. “Right now, there’s a lot of guessing as to what a winery is.”

He said much of the bill’s language is borrowed from Georgia’s winery law. Georgia has between 25-30 wineries.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel with this legislation,” Patrick said.

Local wineries are tourist hotspots, especially with the Alabama Wine Trail gaining publicity, Patrick said.

“The Alabama Wine Trail really gave the wineries a chance to get themselves organized and get out into the public and become a tourist destination for the state of Alabama,” he said. “We do bring people into the community. We have a lot of people that travel from the Midwest to the beach. I actually advertise all the way up into Michigan and Illinois, because that’s where the people are coming from.”

Shelby County is home to three wineries, including Ozan, Morgan Creek Winery in Harpersville and Vizzini Farms Winery in Calera.

The winery bills are House Bill 637 and Senate Bill 556. The Senate took up their version of the winery bill this week, while the House’s bill is still in committee.

For more information on the legislation or on local or state wineries, visit Alabamawinetrail.net.