Wine Worries

By: Philip Stewart
By: Philip Stewart

February 3, 2006

A bill tabled this week by the General Assembly could change the way state wineries can do business, and it's possible that consumers could see an impact. It's all about how vineyards and wineries distribute their wine. If the bill passes, Virginia wineries will no longer be able to sell to local businesses. The wineries and the places that sell our state's wine are concerned.

"This is going to dismally affect, I would say 40% of the Virginia wineries," explained vinter Felicia Warburg Rogan.

Rogan has been in the Virginia wine business for more than 25 years. This week the General Assembly tabled a bill that affects Virginia wineries like Rogan's. It would stop them from selling directly to retailers.

"Our sales people here at Oakencroft will no longer be available to them," she said. "They are going to have to buy our wines through a distributor."

Vinters will have to charge less to attract those distributors, and retailers will have to charge more to make a profit. The bottom line: consumers will pay more, wineries will make less.

At Oakencroft they typically make 4,000 or 5,000 cases of wine each season, but some other local wineries make far less and they are the ones that could be hurt the most.

"A distributor would not be taking them on with the few cases that they have," Rogen added.

The co-owner of Vavino, an all-Virginia wine restaurant on the downtown mall, agrees.

"These are small operators who are making their product and going door-to-door selling it themselves," said Michael Shaps. "They can't afford to hire a big sales force."

Rogan says the bill could have a dramatic effect.

"The worst possible scenario is that our wineries are going to go out of business. That's not the worst possible, that's what's going to happen," Rogan concluded.

Both Rogan and Shaps are urging people to contact their state representatives. They say it's close, but not too late to helping to stop the bill.

There are some 103 wineries in Virginia. That number has more than doubled in the last decade.

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