Oklahoma wine producers seek changes in law

Monday, October 17th 2005, 9:55 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A group of Oklahoma wine producers say they plan to continue pushing for a change in state law that will allow them to ship their product directly to customers and they appear to have the support of at least one lawmaker.

``It will be a shot in the arm for those who invested money to bring a wine industry to Oklahoma,'' said Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague. ``It is a roadblock for them to develop a product in Oklahoma and not to be able to ship it to their customers.''

A measure allowing wineries to do so passed the Senate last session by a 43-1 vote before dying in a House committee.

Bob McBratney, who runs the Stone Bluff Cellars Inn and Winery north of Haskell, produces about 2,000 cases of wine a year.

McBratney, who is from California, owns 70 acres and was looking for a business that could operate on a small farm. The majority of his sales are by word of mouth and selective use of print and radio advertising.

Wine producers such as McBratney can sell to a broker, who sells to a wholesaler who delivers the wine to the liquor retail stores. But he can't ship wine directly to customers, whether they are in Oklahoma or another state. But a visiting customer can buy a case of wine and ship it home, he said.

Wineries also can sell directly to restaurants, he said.

``Small wineries can't afford the charges associated with wholesalers or brokers,'' McBratney said. ``Our margins are too narrow.

``If we could sell out of state, it would add a significant source of revenue without increasing the cost,'' McBratney said.

Those who oppose allowing wineries point to possible problems enforcing the sale of wine to minors and collecting taxes on the sales.

J.B. Jarboe is a partner with Jarboe Sales Co. in Tulsa. Jarboe said the company is the second-largest wholesaler in the state, behind Central Liquor Co. in Oklahoma City.

``Oklahoma will give up a lot of tax revenue,'' Jarboe said. ``There is no way to regulate it or collect it when you bypass the traditional channels.''

McBratney does not believe collecting taxes would be a problem, saying taxes are collected at the point of sale, as with any other retail business.

``It would generate significant additional tax revenues for any winery involved in that commerce,'' McBratney said. ``It is really up to the states to determine how they want to do the tax collection.''