New law should help state wine makers

Monday, June 2nd 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

LEXINGTON, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma wine makers are looking forward to Nov. 1, when a new state law takes effect that they say will help expand the emerging market for state-produced wines.

House Bill 1107 allows Oklahoma wine makers to sell unopened bottles of their products at state shows and festivals, said Jill Stichler, president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association.

Previously, state wineries were allowed only to give out free samples at such events, she said.

"Until things change in November, a winery can now go to an event like the Governor's Conference on Tourism and pour out its wonderful wines and let people taste free samples, but no one can buy any of the wines there at the event," said Stichler, owner of Willow Pond Vineyards, near Lexington.

"If someone from out of state really wants to buy a few bottles to take home, they either have to figure some way to get to that particular winery or try to find a liquor store that might carry its wines."

The new law also amends state statutes so the bottle sizes that state wineries and vineyards are allowed to produce will conform to the bottle sizes permitted under federal law, Stichler said.

"This change will allow Oklahoma wineries to be able to bottle wines in the bottle sizes that their customers want," she said.

She estimates the change in the law could increase Oklahoma wine sales and grape production as much as 50 percent. Gene Clifton, co-owner of Canadian River Vineyards and Winery of Lexington, is more conservative but just as optimistic.

"I'd estimate we'll increase 25 percent easy, or even more," Clifton said.

Canadian Valley Winery has about 12 acres of vines and produces 10 wines.

"The new law opens up another avenue of income for Oklahoma's whole wine-making and grape-growing industry," Clifton said. "A lot will depend on how many wineries really gear up for the trade show and festival market."

The Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association has more than 35 member vineyards, Stichler said. Seventeen are now commercially licensed, but only six or seven are bonded and allowed by the state Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission to sell their wines through retail liquor stores, she said.


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