Fresh corn and cucumbers, strawberries, delicious bread and, this time of year, apple cider doughnuts. Pie, jam, cherries? No, this isn’t a random grocery shopping list. All of these items can be found at various farmer’s markets in Massachusetts. Fresh and local, farmer’s markets are often a great way to support farms and skip the middle man. You can even buy apple cider at the market. After all, if it’s made locally…
…Did we forget a certain type of locally made beverage here? Massachusetts boasts wonderful products from many local wineries, yet this is a product you can’t go ahead and grab along with those yummy fruits and vegetables at the market stand.
However, that may all change soon if the current push to change state law goes through. This would allow wine to be sold at hundreds of farmer’s markets, and it’s being supported by local winemakers and agricultural officials from within Massachusetts. Because current liquor laws in Massachusetts are more restrictive than some other states, this would mean that farmer’s markets would have to obtain liquor licenses from the town or state they are selling in, and enforce underage drinking laws.
But not all winery owners feel that this would be an easy feat.
“The bill as written now would require that wineries receive approval…for a liquor license and wouldn’t be workable for small wineries. (The bill) as written would not be beneficial to small wineries. We don’t have to go to the local towns to get liquor licenses we are licensed by the state to sell direct to consumers at the winery. It does not require approval as long as we are in a wet town. If it were to pass, the ability to sell at the farmer’s market would be moot” says Linda Shumway, owner of the Plymouth Winery.
As an example she states, “To sell in Newton, and to get a Newton license, the licensing process would be cumbersome just to sell at a farmer’s market. The ability to sell at farmer’s market would be terrific because we are local producers…It’s a great idea, (but there) needs to be a way for us to circumvent local control/approval” she adds, due to time, and legal fees that would stall the process.
Yet this opinion is not agreed upon by all.
Kip Kumler, owner of Turtle Creek Winery in Lincoln and chairman of the Massachusetts Farm Winery and Growers Association doesn’t agree. “Our members drafted this legislation…I don’t think there is any way to avoid allowing local jurisdiction of selling.” He explains.
Liquor store owners have been strongly opposed to the proposed bill, stating that wineries are not trained to pick out minors from purchasing alcohol. Many liquor stores were also opposed to the 2006 ballot question which offered the expansion of selling wine in Massachusetts supermarkets.
Kumler calls the opposition by liquor stores a ‘total red herring’.
“I think there’s two issues. One is, it’s not as if there are teenagers cruising farmers markets. People go there to (get quality)…its not the local package store, where someone is getting cheap alcohol for a friend.”
He adds, “you’ll find that package stores have almost all of the citations, wineries have almost zero to none. The real issue there is also…that the package stores are (feeling that) any additional opportunity to purchase wine will come at their own expense. I think they’re just burying their head in the sand.”
He explains that farmer’s markets operate less than a full year, one day a week, and that new markets for local wines should be of an interest to package stores. “They’re in place more often, if people want more of the wine, they will go to the package store. It’s a misrepresentation of reality.
Joseph Sullivan, one of the owners of the Chester Hill Winery in Chester, Massachusetts feels that the ability to sell at farmer’s markets would have helped his winery, which had been open for ten years and is now closed. Their website states that the Chester Hill Winery is closing not due to the economy, but “because it is time to slow down and “smell the roses.” However, Sullivan says that “it is very difficult for a small winery to exist, with shipping laws and other requirements.” He explains that other states allow the ability to sell under different venues under one license, and that the farmer’s market would have been a real help to the small winery, stating that “the ability to do that…would have been a real asset to the business”.
The lead sponsor of the bill in Massachusetts is Senator Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and the current legislation is mainly focused on wine, though the possibility of beer has been mentioned. Massachusetts has just about doubled in the amount of licensed wineries over the last decade.
Richard Auffrey, writer of the Passionate Foodie (http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com ), and food/wine columnist for the Stoneham Sun newspaper, in support of the option to change state law to support wineries said, “We should support this small, local industry and allow them an additional chance to let the public see their products…(they) don’t have enough visibility in most local wine stores. Many local wineries also cannot afford to sell their products through wine stores because of the discount they must give to those stores. The primary opposition comes from wine stores, alleging it will make it easier for underage teenagers to obtain alcohol. But there is no evidence supporting that allegation”
All in all, Kumler doesn’t find the opportunity unreasonable.
“I think that farmers markets represent an important opportunity for wineries to increase their sales. There are 34 farm wineries in the commonwealth. There is already a lot of growth and interest in local wine…I think it’s very important.”