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Wine: Will Maryland shipping bill survive?

If you live in Maryland, shipments like these from can't come to your door. (Associated Press)

Legislation to allow Maryland residents to have wine shipped directly to their homes is still alive in the state Legislature, but on life support – and proponents lost a main advocate last week when the head of a citizens group pushing for direct shipping resigned abruptly.

Adam Borden, executive director of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, resigned Friday afternoon following a three-hour hearing on direct shipping before the state House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee. Borden sent an impassioned e-mail to supporters Monday morning announcing his resignation.

Characteristically, he went down swinging.

"Many in leadership have said that 2010 is NOT the year to debate wine shipping,” Borden wrote. “Why not, I ask you? Because our leaders fear angering what is arguably the most generous political patron in the state at a time that every incumbent Delegate and Senator desperately needs campaign funds.”

Those campaign funds come from wine wholesalers who are adamantly opposed to direct shipping, fearing that such legislation would undermine the traditional alcohol-beverage distribution system put in place upon repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s. Borden estimates direct shipping would account for only about 1 percent of wine sales in Maryland.

Maryland is one of 13 states that prohibit their citizens altogether from having wine shipped directly to their homes from retailers or wineries, and efforts to change the law have been repeatedly stymied in the Maryland Legislature. This year, as I have reported, Borden was hopeful the bill might pass because a majority of legislative members signed on as co-sponsors.

But now Borden has changed his tune. He told me he decided to resign because he – and his aggressive lobbying tactics – had become a distraction that might hurt the bill's already slim chances of passage. One delegate complained that Borden had telephoned her mother in an attempt to wrangle a meeting. “I have been told by several people that for certain legislators I have become a lightning rod because of the aggressive grass-roots tactics we have used, and I did not want to give them an excuse not to vote for the bill,” Borden said.

Those tactics included building the membership ranks of Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws from 1,500 people to more than 20,000 in just 15 months. Supporters of direct shipping clogged the fax lines of such legislators as Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), chairman of the subcommittee that would need to approve the bill – and a staunch opponent of direct shipping. Borden also assiduously courted the media, and his point got traction on the editorial pages of the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post.

The Maryland Wineries Association also supports direct shipping, but remained neutral this year because it is pushing for other legislation sponsored by Conway that will establish a consistent, statewide standard for events that wineries will be allowed to host. That bill will allow wineries to sell at farmers markets and to share certain production facilities, such as bottling lines. Currently, individual counties restrict whether wineries are able to sell food or even have tables available for customers to sit at.

Ed Boyce, co-proprietor of Black Ankle Vineyards in Mt. Airy and a board member of both MWA and MBBWL, said Borden's tactics were galvanizing opposition to direct shipping and distracting attention from the issue's merits. “Direct shipping would do so much to help our fledgling wine industry,” Boyce said. “And Adam has brought the issue closer to success than anyone could have imagined. But he can rub people the wrong way.”

The direct shipping legislation remains before the House Economic Matters Committee, and Conway has scheduled a hearing on the issue for March 17. So the issue is not dead for this session, but Boyce is not optimistic about the bill's chances. “Insiders can block it even though it has the support of most of the Legislature,” he said. “That's not how democracy is supposed to work.”

-- Dave McIntyre

By The Food Section  |  March 11, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre, wine  
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I'll take the actions of 1,000 Adam Bordens before I listen to the arguments of a lobbyist's wallet.

Posted by: the_local | March 11, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't we all be better off if campaign contributions were treated as bribes?

Posted by: rtatlow | March 11, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Whatever Adam Borden's faults might be, he did get the issue more exposure than it's ever had. I hope the will of wine drinkers and supporters of local viticulture will eventually be able to prevail over special interests. It would certainly be helpful to the growth of Maryland's wineries.

Posted by: reneecatacalos | March 11, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I encourage all Maryland wine drinkers and for that matter all beer drinkers as well to support the passage of the bill. The in-action by the Maryland legislature due to their fears of losing support of the distributors is appalling.

Posted by: jthiker | March 11, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

It's a shame it's so difficult to pass this kind of legislation, but at least Adam got the word out on a grass roots level. It seems that legislators pay attention to voters, but in the back of their minds, they also consider the economic benefits of free trade in their state - if you want to save agriculture, allow for and assist better crash crops like grapes and wineries. If you want to help Maryland businesses that sell wine and compete with DC and Virginia, then give them economic advantages - don't tie their hands with regulations that make little sense today! And don't forget the health benefits of daily wine consumption - I haven't - Cheers!

Posted by: tastedc | March 13, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

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