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Published: Monday, 10/1/2007

Law limiting wine shipments may hike prices

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - A law limiting shipments from large out-of-state wineries directly to Ohioans likely means consumers will have to pay higher prices and go back to buying from local stores.

The law, added as an amendment to the state budget in June and backed by a lobbying effort from Ohio wineries and the state's Wholesale Beer and Wine Association, is drawing the ire of a watchdog group that says the measure was passed with little or no public debate.

The ban, scheduled to go into effect today, stops wineries that make more than 150,000 gallons of wine a year, or about 63,000 cases, from directly shipping to Ohio consumers - a practice that began after a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said in-state and out-of-state wine producers must be treated equally.

More than 100 Ohio wineries fall under that limit and are unaffected, according to the Ohio Wine Producers Association.

But the ban will affect thousands of Ohioans who have wine shipped from California and other places.

It also means that Ohio wine drinkers will likely have to pay higher prices in stores, as well as miss out on limited-edition wines available only from out-of-state wineries.

State senators have said they were trying to protect Ohio's wine industry by including the ban in the budget.

"For me it was an economic-development issue dealing with the overall interest of promoting Ohio wineries," said state Sen. Tim Grendell, a Republican whose district covers Geauga County and is home to several wineries.

Mr. Grendell and state Sen. Jeff Jacobson, a Dayton-area Republican, teamed up to get the ban added in a June 12 amendment in the Senate Finance Committee. It was one of dozens of minor changes to the budget bill before it left the committee.

Mr. Grendell acknowledged that the Wholesale Beer and Wine Association, whose political action committee has given him $8,000 since 2004, pushed for the language.

"But it was the legislature and the legislators that decided the right way to go," he said.

Watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action said the ban should have been publicly debated before lawmakers voted.

"What we're talking about is not just access, it's cutting a deal that no one actually knows about until it's over," said Catherine Turcer, the group's legislative director.

But Mr. Jacobson said the matter was discussed among lawmakers in June. He said he even spoke with a lobbyist for the large out-of-state wineries.

"This had plenty of discussion within the Senate," Mr. Jacobson said.

"It would be impossible for every issue in every budget bill to be one that people spend hours and hours talking in a public meeting about."



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