TRAVERSE CITY — Ben Crow is delighted about the new law that allows small winemakers to offer wine tastings and sell bottled wine at farmers markets throughout Michigan. But he’s disappointed by the reaction of many local farmers markets, which are coming to a close for the season without taking advantage of the opportunity.
“I would love to be at the farmers markets except I’ve got a 'no' from every single farmers market in Traverse City,” said Crow, owner of Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard and Winery in Northport. “The market at the Commons pretty much said there’s already Black Star Farms and Left Foot Charley at the Commons so they don't want any more. The Downtown Traverse City market doesn't want to do it this year. The ones in Leelanau are taking it to their board for next year.”
Under the new bill effective Aug. 31, wineries that produce fewer than 5,000 gallons (or 2,000 cases) of wine a year can buy permits to sell wine and serve up to three two-ounce tastings per customer at farmers markets around the state. Wineries first have to get approval from farmers market management and local police.
The idea behind the law is both to expand the appeal of farmers markets and to allow small winemakers, who often have a difficult time getting conventional retail shelf space because they don't produce enough for wholesalers to carry their products, to generate sales and build a market for their wines.
Currently, tastings at farmers markets only are allowed in a few states, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington.
Linda Jones, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, said about 100 wineries in the state are small enough to meet the law criteria. But so far she has not heard of any permits being issued by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to winemakers.