HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s farm wineries don’t want companies coming into Connecticut to open up wineries where they can make wine with grapes from other states or countries.
At a Legislative Office Building press conference, an association representing the farm wineries said sweeping liquor reform passed last year will allow companies to open up a winery without a vineyard and sell their wine directly to consumers if they make less than 100,000 gallons per year. A permit to run a business like this won’t be available until July 1.
There are 40 farm wineries in Connecticut.
Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association President Jonathan Edwards said the law has unintended consequences and could “threaten the future of Connecticut farmers who have invested millions of dollars to create a thriving industry.”
Edwards said they don’t have any specific data to share that shows this new wine permit would be detrimental to their business but he has to assume that any new business allowed to make and sell 100,000 gallons — which is about 40,000 cases of wine — is a “huge winery.” He said if 10 of those open that’s 400,000 cases on wine or 1 million more gallons of wine in the state. “That is going to have a devastating impact on farm wineries.”
He said it’s not “equal footing.” He said all they want to do is level the playing field between farm wineries and wine manufacturers.
He said they are already feeling the squeeze of craft breweries and worries if cannabis is legalized what that will do to their business.
“It’s hurting the wine industry in California, I would think it would have an impact on the wine industry in Connecticut,” Edwards said.
He said they don’t want competition that’s going to come into the state and slap a label on a bottle of wine and give it a Connecticut brand.
“That’s the kind of competition that we don’t welcome,” Edwards said.
Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said the law “disincentivizes the growth of these crops.”
In order to be considered a Connecticut-grown wine and qualify for the farm winery permit only 25% of its grapes have to be grown in Connecticut. No farm is producing wine made with 100% Connecticut-grown grapes.
“This bill suffocates the farm wine industry in Connecticut,” Cohen said.
She said if the General Law Committee won’t take up the issue again this year, the Environment Committee will consider it.
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, who co-chairs the General Law Committee, doesn’t see a problem with the legislation they passed last year and doesn’t have any plans to revisit it this year.
He said the law levels the playing field for everyone from breweries to cideries to wineries and farm wineries.
He said all those parts of the industry now can have a tap room where they sell to consumers and retailers if they produce less than 100,000 gallons.
“Everyone except the farm wineries realize a rising tide lifts all boats,” D’Agostino said.
He said the business model for a farm winery and a wine manufacturer are “completely different business models.” He said the wine manufacturer is able to import grapes or grape powder and barrel it in Connecticut just like the farm wineries do.
“We are not talking about importing wine,” D’Agostino said.
He said the farm winery experience is totally different. He also pointed out farm wineries have advantages that did not change under the law.
“Only farm wineries can be part of the Connecticut wine trail,” D’Agostino said. “Only farm wineries get the benefit of a state program: the Passport to the Farm Wineries.”
He said they also get tax advantages for being farmers and the wine manufacturers get none of those benefits.
He said he knows of only three wine manufacturers without a vineyard in Connecticut and none of them are making more than 100,000 a gallons a year.
“It’s not like the farm wineries aren’t competing with other wine now. There’s millions of gallons of wine imported into this state,” D’Agostino said.
Jamie Jones of Jones Family Farms and Winery said allowing “manufacturers to import grapes from regions with a lower cost of production and sell directly to retailers will seriously threaten the future of Connecticut vineyards and the state’s farmland.”
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said California has an overabundance of grapes this year and that’s going to impact “our farm wine industry in Connecticut.”
He said he doesn’t believe the concept was fully vetted last year and it deserves a public hearing.
“When the legislature bites off such a big issue such as liquor reform there are unintended consequences,” Candelora said.