Monday, February 27, 2006

Great Maryland Wine Hijinx Starring Dumb and Dumber

The Picture Above is an Endangered Species


You cannot make it up. It's like a bad Hollywood pitch meeting.

"OK, get this. It's Sideways meets Dumb and Dumber." Only problem is I can't tell who's dumb and who's dumber!

Can someone please tell me how Maryland's Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. could possibly have thought that the answer to a lawsuit brought against the state of Maryland by a Pennsylvania winery and a Silver Spring resident to petition for the ability to sell direct to restaurants and retailers resulted in the quick fix of cancelling the same privledge for the state's 21 booming wineries?

Can someone tell me why the law firm representing those two entities would endanger (with what some might surmise was a sloppily built case), not only the small, independant wineries of Maryland, but possibly endanger the whole independent wine industry of the entire eastcoast?

The one agri-buiness that is doing well in Maryland is its small wine industry which has brought fame and accolades to that state. Can someone explain to me why that industry was crushed by the unthinking response of the State's alledged Attorney General, with a band-aid approach that we haven't seen the likes of since Herbert Hoover said there was no depression?

Pennsylvania wineries want entry into the market. They are small, but fairly local producers in some cases. The state's laws prohibit such sales by wineries out of state. So first there is a lawsuit. Their seemingly questionable case is built on the fact that if Maryland wineries are allowed to sell direct, then out-of-state wineries deserve the same treatment under the law, especially with the Supreme Court striking down laws that prohibit inter-state shipping to consumers.

But obviously no one at Mr. Robert Epstein's law firm, nor the filing winery nor the Silver Spring consumer, seemed to consider that they might needlessly expose the flimsy laws many states throughout the eastcoast enacted were to prop up high-end agri-businesses that residents wanted to protect. The wineries were a boon to the state, and many folks looked the other way rather than ruin a good thing. Local tax revenues were paid by the wineries, so the legislators were happy, and it was small enough that wholesalers turned a blind eye.

But the lawsuit had the opposite affect. Instead of drawing attention to the new Supreme Court decree, it brought attention on a flimsy law written to protect and encourage a small flegling industry, and gave strong voice and hope to liquor wholesalers throughout the market.

Funny, since Pennsylvania's liquor industry is regulated completely by the state, and the state imports wine directly from Maryland, this Pennsylvania winery wanted a reciprical arrangement, torpedoes be damned. It doesn't bother them that California has been dealing with the same unjust law for a number of years?

Why the state comptroller felt it necessary to squash the small wineries rather than face the wrath of liquor wholesalers it charges yearly fees to is without question the silliest move of all. The comptroller did not need to issue an order rescinding a law that has been in effect for more than 54 years, and change the best laid plans of further seeing men and women.

Comptroller Schaefer was equally to blame. He made the decision to hastily follow Curran's advice. He could have balked...or at least offered a better solution. Might it also be a coincidence that there are allegedly strong ties between the Comptroller and his staff, and the lobbyists representing the wholesalers?

What was Mr. Epstein thinking about? What was Mr. Curran thinking about? What was the Pennsylvania winery thinking about?

Don't you think the wholesalers in New Jersey and New York, who pay hefty fees for their liquor licenses are watching this with great concern? Maybe the wine lobby in New York State might be bigger and louder, but there are a number of small wineries all over the eastern seaboard who are put in danger by wildcat lawsuits like Mr. Epstein's? Did Mr. Epstein consult the Maryland Winegrowers before stirring up this hornet's nest? Did he consult local wineries in the other states lawsuits he has joined? Why is an Indianapolis lawyer filing a suit in Maryland for a winery in Pennsylvania?

Did not Mr. Curran have a number of options he could have enjoined instead of instantly striking this blow against his state's own wineries? Could he not have allowed shipping if taxes were paid by the winery into the state coffers until a better law could be enacted? And don't hand that youngsters stuff can order viagra online, and percoset, and other drugs. Are there thank many teenagers asking for a Pennsylvania Pinot Noir or Merlot? Wine is a thing so many teenagers are sneaking into keg parties? Give us a break.

And how much money does the Pennsylvania winery think they are going to roll-up in sales after this little fiasco? Indeed, California, who would have a lot more to gain, did not file the suit. Maybe they were smart enough to let these folks do the work for them? While I am a fan of many Pennsylvania wineries, how many poeple in Maryland are drinking, or even ordering or inquiring about, Pennsylvania wine? Come on.

"It's a death knell for the smallest wineries," said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.

Mr. Epstein and Mr. Curran seem to have replaced what earlier, seemingly wiser, lawmakers and lawyers fully thought through back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. That these small wineries preserve a way of life that is increasingly fading in the megalopolis that is the eastcoast, goes without saying. Their demise will only increase, like mushrooms, the McMansions which have sprouted up on many of the former farms of Maryland and the rest of the 95 corridor.

Reckless is a word that comes to mind.

When they go to cast the next Dumb and Dumber: The Sideways Trip, who gets to play Mr. Daniels' character and who gets to play Mr. Carrey's character? I can't wait for the scene when Sandra Oh smacks them both in the face with a motorcycle helmet. Unfortunately, the ones getting hurt won't be them, it will be the wineries and you and me.

Read more about this waste of taxpayers time and money at...

Decision on wineries hurts economy, environment
By TED ROUSE Originally published February 26, 2006
Baltimore Sun,0,6857450.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

Our say: Unfair policy hurts state wineries and consumers
The Capital

Comptroller's ruling possible 'death knell' for Maryland wineries
Julekha Dash
Baltimore Business Journal