State winemakers closer to wrangling distribution rights

Oklahoma winemakers are tantalizingly close to bringing the fruits of their labor to market. The tiny state wine industry has been struggling for years for the right to ship wine directly to:
" retailers,
" restaurants,
" bars and
" individual consumers.

"We're still working on it," said Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague. "We're as close (to establishing distribution rights for wineries) as we've been in two years."

In mid-April, the state House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 995 and Senate Joint Resolution 29. The bill would permit wineries that produce less than 10,000 gallons a year to distribute directly, without the need to go through a wholesaler. The bill also would extend the same shipping rights to small out-of-state wineries.

The Senate resolution calls for a statewide referendum, since the Oklahoma Constitution must be amended for any law regulating alcoholic beverages. In late April, the Senate was reviewing the measures' final language.

Most of the state's 55 wineries are small enough to meet the production guideline, according to Andrew Snyder, president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association. The five Oklahoma wineries producing more than 10,000 gallons would probably want to distribute through wholesalers because self-distribution costs would be prohibitive for them, he said.

At the same time, small winemakers say they have had trouble interesting the state's liquor wholesalers, who derive most of their profits from large shipments from big liquor producers. "Randall Turk

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