Virginia wineries may get legislative help

Christopher B. Saxman (right), a Republican member of the Virginia General Assembly, has proposed a bill that would give Virginia wineries the right to distribute up to 3,000 cases of wine a year directly to retailers.

A U.S. District Court ruling in 2005 made use of distributors mandatory for wine businesses. The court held that since wineries from other states were required to use distributing companies to place their products in the Virginia market, if Virginia wineries did not follow the same practice they would be guilty of discrimination.

Ann Heidig, president of the Virginia Wineries Association, said that decision has caused wineries in the state to lose significant amounts of profit. In turn, consumers are given fewer wine choices -- particularly from among the Virginia producers -- and higher costs.

Whether Saxman's bill will have traction is up for debate. Literally.

Fellow Republical legislator Terry Kilgore said he is in agreement with the basics of the proposal, but wants to hear discussion on the committee floor before making a decision.

One amendment already proposed to the bill would use a state-established corporation as mediator, allowing the wineries to distribute their own producst, but the state would be the wholesale license holder. Then, in addition to providing wholesale wine services to wineries, the corporation would be responsible for annual reports of business activities at the wineries.

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