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Special license proposed for wineries

January 24, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- The owner of a winery opening in Clear Spring said he supports the opening of multiple wineries throughout Washington County.

And he's hoping a new licensing distinction for wineries will help future vineyards overcome some of the obstacles he has faced.

Richard Seibert, managing partner of Knob Hall Winery on Saint Paul Road, supports a new Class W license to give perspective winery investors a clear road map of what they can expect in every county in Maryland.

Current guidelines vary from county to county and can be confusing and frustrating for some, Seibert said.

Some counties do not allow seating, and others place restrictions on the sale of wine.

"Some counties do not allow them to serve basic foods like crackers and cheese," Seibert said. "But you don't want (visitors) to not be allowed to eat."

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Knob Hall Winery is expected to open later this year, and Seibert said the Class W license is a proactive step toward eliminating inconsistencies among counties regarding the regulation of wineries.

The Class W license would allow the sampling and selling of winery wines at the winery for on- or off-premise consumption, allow the business to hold events and allow the winery to operate seven days a week, among other things.

Washington County has no special licensing for wineries. Since Seibert's winery would be the only one in Washington County, he said there never has been a need to classify them separately.

"Wineries are sort of the stepchildren of the regulatory process," Seibert said. "And it's put Maryland wineries at a great disadvantage. We're asking for a clarification in the law so that everyone understands how wineries should be regulated."

Support for licensing

Seibert and Kevin M. Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, spoke in favor of the new license before the Western Maryland delegation to the Maryland General Assembly last week.

At that meeting, the delegation agreed to consider drafting a bill that would create a Class W license.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said it made sense to create a classification for wineries since they do not fit into any other liquor licensing category.

Washington County's Board of Liquor License Commissioners has not taken a position on the new license, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who said he supports the new license.

An attempt to reach the local liquor board was unsuccessful Friday. A call to the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association -- which is said to oppose the winery license -- was not returned.

At least eight counties, including Washington County, have been asked to draft a bill in support of the Class W license in order to create a uniform standard for the businesses.

Del. Richard B. Weldon, who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Frederick and Washington counties, questioned why all Maryland counties and Baltimore City were not asked to support the proposed bill.

"I support it," Weldon said of the license. "I think we should do it statewide."

He said it appeared advocates only were reaching out to the counties that would be easier to convince.

"It's a huge emerging industry," Weldon said of wineries. "We're all acting like we're concerned about agriculture, but we're afraid to upset the liquor license bureaucracy in this area."

Washington and Allegany counties will support the new license, said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.

Myers said he also supports the classification, and said an easier path to opening a winery perhaps would interest more business people in opening a winery in Washington County.

Wineries could "take off" locally, Shank said, but they have run into roadblocks preventing that from happening. The Class W license seeks to remove those hurdles.

A boost to tourism

The delegation heard last week three Maryland wineries, including Frederick County, Md.'s Linganore Winecellars at Berrywine Plantations, draw about 250,000 visitors annually.

Knob Hall Winery will sit on about 60 acres and offer up to 19 different types of wine, Seibert said.

Multiple wineries in Washington County could be a boost to local tourism, said state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. Munson, who is a member of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Maryland Wine and Grape Growing, said it's possible Washington County one day could have as many as six wineries.

Seibert said he has heard of several wineries in the planning stages, and hopes Washington County eventually has a "wine trail" similar to Frederick County.

Munson called Seibert the "pioneer."

"A lot of people are going to follow him," Munson said.

He said a Class W license provides easy and responsible guidelines that would create opportunities for other entrepreneurs in Washington County.

Myers said having multiple wineries would attract visitors who travel from winery to winery for tastings, much like they do in California's Napa Valley.

And Washington County has some of the best soil in the county for growing grapes, said Joe Fiola, a grape-growing specialist with the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Fiola said the soil type in parts of Washington County, including Clear Spring, is a combination of limestone over rock, similar to wine country in France.

"That's one of the reasons I'm excited about this," Fiola said, referring to the Knob Hall Winery, which would be the first large commercial winery to open locally.




License regulations

A Class W license that Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly will support would:

o Allow sampling and selling of winery wines at the winery, for on- or off-premise consumption.

o Allow the holding of events

o Allow the sale and service of incidentals to the sample wine.

o Allow operation seven days a week.

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