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House bill could uncork state's wineries
State would allow Web sales, vintners to ship their wares
Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Lumpkin County is among a handful of wineries in Northeast Georgia. A bill passed Thursday by the Georgia House would allow Georgia wineries to ship up to 12 cases of wine a year to an individual and would also allow wineries in other wine-growing states to ship to Georgia. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS The Times

When out-of-state tourists visit a Georgia winery and would like to purchase a case of the local vintage to ship home, they likely will hear the winer's whine: We can't do that.

However, a bill passed Thursday by the Georgia House would allow Georgia wineries to ship up to 12 cases of wine a year to an individual. The bill would also allow wineries in wine-growing areas such as California to ship to Georgia. Wine also could be ordered on the Internet.

"We're agritourism business in Georgia and small rural businesses and we bring a lot to the table," said Steve Gibson of Habersham Winery in Helen. Gibson is president of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, which has sought the legislation for several years, but faced opposition from the state's liquor industry.

"We couldn't ship to our No. 1 customers, the residents of Georgia," Gibson said. Under current law, a Georgia resident visiting a winery could ship wine back home within the state. However, they could not reorder additional bottles after their visit.

"A lot of our wineries in North Georgia are very small, family-owned wineries," he said, adding that many of the Georgia wineries do not have wide distribution in the state and the sales from the farm are vital.
Pete Kasprzak, winery director of Chateau Elan in Braselton, said his winery located at the popular resort has a steady stream of visitors who would like to ship wine home.

"The ability to ship is of great paramount," Kasprzak said. "We get that request all the time, say we can't and lose the money."

The ability to ship has become more important in the wake of higher security for air travelers. Liquid-filled glass bottles are among the items prohibited for carry-on travel, keeping the flying public from bringing even a bottle or two on board.

Karl Boegner of Wolf Mountain Vineyards, which operates tasting rooms at its winery in Lumpkin County and on the square in Dahlonega, said much of his potential is in Georgia.

"We have people who visit us and like our wines, but if a local wine shop in Savannah or wherever they're from doesn't carry it, they can't get it unless the drive back to the winery," Boegner said.

The bill requires that Georgians buying wine online would have to verify they are age 21 or older. There are currently 37 states which allow such sales in the U.S.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 126-8, now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

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