March 22, 2012

Tanzi looks to tap into local beer, wine industry for expansion to farmers markets

STATE HOUSE – Before long, customers roaming the stands of the state’s ever-popular farmers markets may be able to grab a brew or purchase a bottle of wine straight from the local vineyards.

Representatives Jared R. Nunes (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) and Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) want to make room for local brewers and winegrowers to sell their products at farmers markets, something that has been at least partially implemented in other New England states like Massachusetts and Vermont. New Hampshire is on their coattails this month, with the state’s House of Representatives decision to pass a bill that would authorize nanobrewery, beverage manufacturer and brew pub licensees to sell their products at farmers markets.

Other aspects of the Rhode Island legislation are directed at stimulating local business activity, Representative Nunes said. For instance, the bill (2012-H 7301) also calls for increasing the amounts of ingredients that may be imported to produce double the amounts of wine currently allowable during the first years of operation.

“We’d like to take the next step in developing domestic farms in this state,” said Representative Nunes. “We’re not only adding another industry to the ‘buy local’ crowd – which in our economy is a much-needed step in the right direction – but we’re adjusting limits to production to reflect the true landscape of the economy right now. Our constituents have brought their concerns to us, including the fact that government needs to come up with more innovative ways to help bring back business to the state of Rhode Island. Well, this is one way to do it.”

Representative Tanzi said she would like to see Rhode Island lead the way in achieving success in the local food and beverage industry.

“The way the law is currently, we’re barring some of our entrepreneurs from another opportunity to be successful in this state,” Representative Tanzi said. “First, we opened the door to allow small-scale farmers to sell directly to consumers. More recently, we removed barriers for fishermen to do the same. The next logical step is to allow wineries and breweries the chance to thrive. Agriculture is one bright spot in our state’s economy, and it is time to get out of the way of small businesses trying to grow. We’re going to give this industry the tiny boost it needs to make a contribution to Rhode Island’s economic climate.”

Their bill, co-sponsored by Representatives Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston), Joy Hearn (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence) and Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester), would also establish a farmer-brewer license. The annual fee for a license would be $1,000 for producing more than 50,000 gallons per year and $500 for less than 50,000 gallons per year. The annual fee is prorated to the year ending Dec. 1 in every calendar year and paid to the Division of Taxation to be turned over to the general treasurer for the general fund.

The House Corporations Committee recommended the bill be held for further study.