A series of bills passed by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law earlier this year is already having a substantial impact on the state’s wine industry.
When assessing the appropriate actions that would serve to benefit the state’s wineries and vineyards, leaders identified existing barriers to expanding the industry’s growth potential.
States across the nation hold favorable laws which provide a tremendous boost to their respected wine industries in comparison to other states. However, such laws prior to this year did not exist in Alabama.
Measures were undertaken by tourism industry professionals in conjunction with the legislature to provide Alabama wineries with greater liberty to operate free from burdensome government restrictions.
State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre) spearheaded the effort to pass two bills, which he authored, to greatly enhance Alabama’s wine manufacturers’ ability to take their product to market.
Senate Bill 294 allows local wineries to bypass a distributor and self distribute to restaurants and shops given certain criteria. By cutting out the mandatory need for a distributor, small farm wineries now have the freedom to distribute their product to licensed retailers.
Additional legislation sponsored by Jones which was signed into law, Senate Bill 167, enabled local wineries to sell their offerings directly to consumers at festivals and other specialty events.
In a conversation with Yellowhammer News, Jones said that he identified the need to assist small farm wineries while campaigning for office three years ago. He noted that at the time the bills were passed, wine was the only farm product that farmers grew which they could not take directly to market.
“I actually learned about issues facing small farm wineries in Alabama when I was on the campaign trail back in 2018,” advised Jones. “Really, it was one of the first things that I dove into after I was elected working on legislation to help the wineries. It took three years to get these bills passed.”
He added, “Really my hope has always been that we could have similar success as other states that have passed this kind of legislation that promotes small farm wineries.”
The third piece of legislation that provided a boost to the state’s wine industry was House Bill 437, authored by State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur). The law allows wine manufacturers to apply for an Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board license to ship directly to consumers, something industry leaders have long sought.
Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association (AMLA) president & CEO Tami Reist played an integral role in promoting the legislative efforts as she coordinated with business and elected leadership to promote the passage of laws friendly to the wine industry.
Regarding the legislature taking action to benefit Alabama’s wine industry, Reist asserted that the effort “has paved the way for more tax dollars to be generated to Alabama’s economy.” She also said the legislation “has given small businesses an opportunity to increase awareness and added revenues to their wineries.”
Reist, a longtime North Alabama tourism professional, has embarked on a campaign to promote the region’s vast wine offerings in an effort to drive tourism.
Through her vision and leadership, AMLA created the North Alabama Wine Trail which promotes North Alabama wineries and vineyards to wine enthusiasts and out-of-state tourists seeking to take advantage of the region’s bountiful wine experiences.
Janie Coppey, owner of Wills Creek Vineyards & Winery in Attalla, detailed her operation’s first festival as being a major success. She heaped praise upon Reist for spearheading the effort which made the festival a reality.
“We had hoped for 100-150 tickets sold and I think over 250 bought tickets online and we had a lot at the door, there was at least 300 people here,” Coppey told Yellowhammer News. “We had one of our part-time employees helping park and he counted at least 15 out-of-state tags,” further stating that patrons from as far away as Minnesota and Wisconsin were in attendance.
Owners of small farm wineries in Alabama, now with expanded freedom to present their products to consumers, have received a significant boost from legislative and tourism efforts to bring about long-desired reform to state laws regulating the industry.
Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL