In July 2009, the Ohio budget bill contained a section allowing the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to sell licenses and conduct inspections on wineries as food processing facilities if they wholesale. This regulation has stirred up ‘sour grapes’ for some area vineyards.
“We have been seeking to either exempt winery from this or provide a reasonable modification,” says Keith Pritchard, owner of Slate Run Vineyard (found in Central Ohio, south of Canal Westchester).
In 1996, Pritchard and his wife opened their vineyard in hopes to share their love of winemaking. Since then they have had highs and lows along the way, but this state regulation seems to be threatening the centuries-old techniques conducted at his vineyard.
Pritchard launched his fight against “unnecessary and double regulation of wineries,” with a website (FreeTheWineries.com) explaining the issue at hand and urging people to support Ohio Senate Bill 32 which would keep (wine only) wineries and wholesale distributors under the supervision of the Ohio Division of Liquor Control and exempt from food safety regulations.
The ODA is charged with issues of food safety, which would make sense for it to monitor wineries that produce food that has a chance of harboring human pathogens argues Pritchard, “It’s ridiculous to extend these requirements to wineries that do not produce grape juice.”
Since the regulations have been imposed, Pritchard has stopped wholesaling his wine to area distributors taking a hit to his company, “It took 17% off of my business when I stopped wholesaling,” says Pritchard. “It puts a needless burden on small wineries and an infringement on the principles I hold as a winemaker. I feel in order to make good quality wine, it needs to be exposed to certain type of environment.”
The rules impose certain restrictions on how the wine can be produced requiring the businesses to purchase new equipment and different type of licenses in which Pritchard feels are redundant and unnecessary, “The old-style production of wine I use has been proven safe for years. …Ohio wineries also have been well regulated and wine is pretty much a palatable disinfectant.”
Wineries were regulated by the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (ATT&B), Ohio Division of Liquor Control as well as for sanitation without past incident.
Ohio Senator Tim Schaffer seems to agree with Pritchard and also feels that the ODA was ‘“saddled with responsibility without a lot of training,”’ in the areas of wine production as reported in the Daily Legal News (2 May 2013) of Youngstown, Ohio, “‘The inspectors have little expertise in the specifics of how wine is made. I have heard complaints from various wine producers who have received guidelines from ODA that are contrary to the most basic industry standards and would result in a mined and unmarketable product.’”
However, not all local wineries fully agree with Pritchard. Columbus’ Camelot Cellars Proprietor Janine Aquino says rules and regulations are often part of the game, even if they are not liked, “Sometimes you have to accept the rules and roll with the punches. It’s our job as wineries to learn more about the regulations and see how it’s going to affect us. We need to know more about the situation and if it conduces to what we do as a winery and if it makes sense or not.”
Out-of state wineries that directly wholesale in Ohio are exempt from this regulation.
“It’s really a balancing act” says Executive Director Donniella Winchell, of the Ohio Wine Association. “We’re respectful of the concerns that some of the wineries have about the inspections that may be obtrusive, but we also balance that with the concern of the food safety folks for food safety.”
The Ohio Wine Association, for now, seems to have a neutral ground on the issue adds Winchell, “As long as the division and those that are doing the inspections provide adequate notice which they have promised to do so… and as long as the requirements they expect don’t go beyond the normal everyday common sense standards… and will not impose a significant expense on the wineries…then the association is going to remain neutral on this.”
The Ohio Wine Association is a non-profit trade association which promotes the sale and consumption of Ohio wine. The Association currently has over 100 wineries as members and 6 different trails in the state.
The ODA is responsible for conducting and inspecting over 150 wineries in the Buckeye State. If interested in learning more about the July 2009 Ohio Budget bill winery regulation or would like to support Ohio SB 32 opposing the legislation visit freethewineries.com.
This is a guest post by Nijma Awadallah-Darwish. Nijma is a freelance writer and contributor to Edible Columbus and Al-Sahafa. You can follow her on Twitter @BrnAndBread and at her blog bornandbreadblogs.com