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06.2008

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD

Eating and drinking the products of one’s own region is an emerging and burgeoning movement across the country. It is also a healthy notion, for knowing the source of what we consume must lead to more intelligent, tasty and wholesome purchasing by consumers and the production of higher quality products.

All this fits right in with the aims of our local wineries in New England. On February 28, the year-old Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association (MFWGA) had its first annual general meeting. Kip Kumler of Turtle Creek Winery in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is president of the association, actively assisted by at least nine other members. The membership is composed of wineries and growers representing well over 9O percent of wine production in Massachusetts.

A major stimulus for the association’s formation was the US Supreme Court’s ruling in 2OO4 against in-state wineries have a shipping advantage to consumers over out-of-state wineries, but there are other issues ongoing, many also resulting from the archaic, complex and oft-contradictory laws regulating beverage alcohol across the land. Similar trade associations on regional and national levels would need to interact cooperatively to maximize the impact of this coming together. Some states have become enlightened. Oregon, for example, with the advice of vintners and others, has reduced its former bog of regulations to one page, which it tweaks as practically needed. New York State may be at the other extreme, with a 3OO-page volume of regulations. MFWGA has retained a legislative representative – a lobbyist. Like the wineries of Oregon, those of Massachusetts would like a seat at the table making decisions about their highly regulated product, and hope to have the shackles removed by regulatory reform.

The association has aims other than easing legal restrictions. “Quality” was perhaps the word most frequently uttered at the meeting. (And in tasting the samples brought by the winemakers during the luncheon interval, I can attest that the quality is worthy of pride.) An official imprimatur was lent to the proceedings by the participation of Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Douglas Peterson. His department not only regulates but promotes Massachusetts agriculture. The MFWGA has obtained grants from the department and from other sources. A portion of the meeting was devoted to quality improvement.

Marketing and consumer education also came in for deserved attention. The magnitude of wine production’s economic impact and land preservation is truly impressive. Nationwide, the 5OOO American wineries contribute 162 billion dollars to the economy. In Massachusetts, the 26 wineries (now located in every county) and other growers farm 5OO acres and produce more than 2OO,OOO gallons of wine annually. Massachusetts is the nation’s fourth-largest wine market (eleven million cases sold last year). All these figures are growing rapidly. Wine produced in the state is the highest value-added commodity in Massachusetts, and the fastest growing sector. Massachusetts leads all states in the value per capita of farm products sold directly to consumers.

The education program includes a website (masswineries.com) scheduled to appear this spring, informative brochures, development of regional wine trails, a traveling display show, radio spots, and joint activities with food and other groups.
MFWGA appears to be running with energy and intelligence. The enthusiasm with which it has been welcomed was clear from the attendance by so many of the state’s wineries and growers. I noted also participants from New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, and Washington, DC. There were contributions to the day from people involved in the retailing and wholesaling of wine, the restaurant trade, marketing, winemaking and growing, education, government and influencing government, and news media.

Were I to try to encapsulate the message conveyed by the day of the wineries, I would say that wine is viewed as a food, not as a means of intoxication, but as a healthful accompaniment to eating that, consumed in moderation, enriches life, that the MFWGA members are striving for ever-increasing quality, and that they desire educated consumers and rational regulation.

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