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Munson has grape expectations

February 18, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - The time is ripe for would-be Maryland wineries and grape-growers, according to a local lawmaker who believes a growing winery industry could reap a harvest of economic development and agricultural preservation.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, has sponsored two bills designed to foster wine production in Maryland, where, as he told the Rural Caucus of legislators Thursday, "we are far surpassed by almost every state in the number of wineries."

Maryland has 15 wineries right now.

"There's a lot of money in wine," Munson told the caucus. He said the same plot of farmland that would produce $16 worth of apples could produce $1,070 worth of wine.

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At the same time, he told them that converting farms and orchards to vineyards and wineries would help preserve green space.

Munson's bills would extend the duration of a state commission on wine and grape-growing, and establish a wine and grape promotion council funded with a portion of the tax collected from wine sales.

Richard Penna, a Knoxville resident who said he started growing grapes as a hobby, has served on the commission and implored the legislators to get Munson's bills approved.

"We can make quality wines here in Maryland," Penna said. "The state must invest in the wine industry if the industry is to pay back manifold. It's a small industry but is beginning to grow."

"The opportunity's here if the state is willing to do it."

Penna suggested the state could develop maps for each county showing suitable sites for vineyards, and by propagating disease-free grapevines.

Lobbyist Patrick Roddy, representing the Maryland Association of Wineries, told the group that the wine industry in Pennsylvania and Virginia "has exploded since the 1990s."

He said Maryland wineries would benefit if the industry were approached as a statewide concern rather than a local one. He said it would allow the wine tax, which now goes to the state's general fund, to be used for promotions and letting wineries market themselves by selling individual bottles and conducting more wine-tasting events than currently allowed.

Munson cautioned caucus members not to overlook the tourism potential in the development of wineries.

"Agri-tourism could be a blockbuster," he said.

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