MO Wine Industry Seeks Winery Definition Change
Leading members of Missouri’s wine industry are calling for changes to the way a winery is defined.
“It’s got to the point now where there are actually restaurants that are calling themselves wineries,” said Tony Kooyumjian, chair of a special sub-committee set up a few months ago by the Missouri Wine and Grape Board (MWGB) to look into the winery definition issue.
Under current state liquor laws, an establishment that makes only 200 gallons of wine per year can trade as a winery. The 22 Percent Manufacturer Solicitor license, together with other permits, allows businesses that call themselves Missouri wineries to import all of the wine they actually sell from off-site and California.
The MWGB’s own winery marketing material makes no differentiation between wineries that make their own wine and those that don’t.
Some industry leaders say the situation is confusing consumers and eroding the Missouri wine brand.
“I don’t think any consumers now know the difference between which of the wineries that are listed in our brochure are real wineries and which ones aren’t,” said Kooyumjian, owner of Augusta and Montelle wineries in Augusta and one of the most respected winemakers in the state.
Traditionally, said Kooyumjian, Missouri wineries made their own wine from local grapes under a Domestic Winery License. However, in recent years, he said, the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) has allowed more and more businesses to trade as wineries using the MS22 license.
So far the MWGB subcommittee has held two meetings via conference call. However, members are having trouble agreeing on a new winery definition. Kooyumjian says one complicating issue is that some of the wineries involved with the subcommittee have made a significant business out of making wine for other state wineries.
“The process of tightening up the winery definition is not going well, obviously since many want to keep it very loose,” said Jon Held, Vice President and co-owner of Stone Hill Winery, who is also on the subcommittee. Stone Hill is one of Missouri’s most awarded wineries.
“The real disservice to the legitimate wineries in the region are the folks who are bringing in their ‘1-800-dial—up-a” wine from California and pawning it off as locally produced wine,” he added.
“It’s tough to build a serious, long term, regional wine industry with this going on,” said Held.
One proposal is a ratings system that would be used on MWGB promotional material. Wineries with their own production and vineyards would get 5 stars, down to 1 star for those who bring all their wine in from out-of-state. Kooyumjian and Held say another solution could be to call wineries that don’t make their own wine, wine bistros, wine gardens, or wine bars.
“It will be very tough to get industry agreement,” said Held. “I also wouldn’t rule out a small group of like-minded industry members attempting to change the legal definition via legislation,” he added.
In a week or so, look for a follow up to this article in which Danny Wood interviews Stone Hill Winery about the prospect for a Midwestern “Superappelation.” Danny is a leading Midwestern wine writer based in the Kansas City area.
Our family has started a winery, in the old fashioned sense of the word, and would fully support any of these measures. The current appellation system in the state, although well intended, is basically worthless locally and for visitors. Unlike Europe, where the standards mean something and a designation tells a consumer which grapes were used and dictates the processes, our system only tells the geographic location in the state. As long as a business sells wine and has the proper license, it can call itself a winery. We are just outside of the Ozark Highlands, and because we aren’t actually within the AVA, we can’t put “Estate Wine” on our label, putting us in the same category as these restaurants and “wineries” that don’t even attempt to make their own wine. It is frustrating. I will admit that we supplement our own vineyard produced wine with juice that we source from other locations, but we make it very clear to the consumer when we do so. If we ever want to come close to the kind of credibility that California and Europe have achieved, we need to tighten the standards. The rating system sounds brilliant, actually, strictly because of its simplicity. It’s simple enough for new to novice wine drinkers to understand and it’s a beginning step toward the AVA system, that frankly, our state is not ready for yet in either wine making or drinking. A better start is getting people making wine from grapes grown around here and customers becoming familiar with them. The Missouri wine industry and the customers/tourists deserve better, the rating system would be a good start.
Thanks for your informative comment and the interesting observation about the AVA system. We’ll keep following this winery definition issue, push the debate along a bit and hopefully, in the end, wineries that make their own wine using predominantly local grapes will get the credit they deserve.
all the best
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