Wineries aided by new laws on farmers’ markets, tax credits -- Gazette.Net


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For several years, Rocklands Farm has humanely raised cattle, chicken and other animals on its 34 acres and maintained an organic vegetable and produce garden.

Now, the Poolesville farm has added vino to its offerings, taking advantage of a new law allowing tax credits on 25 percent of the capital expenses to establish or make improvements to a winery.

Opened in mid-November, Rocklands Farm’s winery has a couple of acres of vineyards and offers seven wines.

“It’s a fairly small operation right now, but we plan to grow,” said Shawn Eubank, the business manager. The winery expects to produce about 9,000 bottles by the end of the year.

The tax credit law, which the Maryland General Assembly passed this year, took effect in July. It is one of several pieces of legislation approved in recent years to boost the state’s wine industry.

A two-year-old law lets Maryland wineries obtain a permit to ship their products directly to customers, a longtime desire by local producers. Previously, wineries had to ship to a wholesaler, which would send it on to a retailer.

The law has helped Elk Run Vineyards and Winery boost sales, said Carol Wilson, co-owner with her husband, Fred. “We are seeing an increase in the number of orders,” she said.

People regularly request wine to be shipped to them after a visit and particularly during the holidays to give as a gift, said Wilson, who is also marketing director of the Mount Airy winery.

Established in 1979, Elk Run’s offerings include white wines such as Liberty Tavern Reserve Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, red wines like Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.

Elk Run uses a shipping company to deal with various states’ tax regulations. “It’s easier for us not to have to keep up with how much in sales taxes that each state charges and the related paperwork,” Wilson said.

Maryland issued 629 direct wine-shipping permits in fiscal 2012, when 49,350 gallons of wine were shipped directly to consumers, according to a state comptroller’s office report. Wholesalers still accounted for more than 99 percent of wine sales, with some 14.66 million gallons sold in the state.

Wineries and businesses outside Maryland that want to ship wine into the state have to be licensed to manufacture wine and obtain a permit from the state comptroller’s office.

Lifting restrictions on farmers’ markets

Another beneficial law that was passed this year lifts restrictions on wineries to sell their products at farmers’ markets in Maryland. Wineries pay for one state permit, rather than having to get special event permits each time they want to sell at a market.

“It gives us more opportunities to be out and about,” Wilson said.

Elk Run has sold at markets in Frederick, Bethesda, Silver Spring and Potomac, among others.

Lifting the farmers’ market restrictions also has helped Great Shoals Winery, which produces hard ciders and sparkling wines, owner Matt Cimino said. “We can attend more markets easily,” he said. “We don’t have to file so much paperwork.”

Markets must invite a winery to participate, and wineries cannot sell by the glass. Local regulations regarding the sale and sampling of wine are enforced and not superseded by the state.

Farmers’ markets selling locally produced vegetables, fruits and other products have become increasingly popular, with the number in the state rising to 131 this year from 88 in 2008.

Great Shoals, which formed in 2010, has its tasting room at Heyser Farms in Silver Spring. The winery does not currently have its own vineyards, but works with partners and larger producers, Cimino said.

“We would like to one day have our own vineyards,” he said.

Great Shoals also has seen more shipping orders this year, Cimino said.

One concern with direct shipping is that big wine companies, such as in California, could flood the state with shipments, but it’s too early to tell if outside wineries are having much impact, he said.

“A lot of residents don’t know about the shipping law,” Cimino said.

kshay@gazette.net