Tisbury finance committee nixes farmer's market wine sales
Photo by Susan Safford
The Tisbury finance and advisory committee (FinCom) will not allow voters at annual town meeting to consider the sale of farm-produced wines at the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market. The committee voted last week to reject a late-filed article selectmen wanted to place on the annual town meeting warrant. FinCom members agreed the article was not filed in a timely manner and declined to include it.
The sale of bottled wine at the summer market staged at the Tisbury Wharf Company from late June through early September requires an amendment to the town's bylaw that now allows beer and wine sales only in licensed restaurants.
Tisbury's FinCom makes the final decision on whether to accept or reject late-filed articles, including those put forward by the selectmen. At the FinCom meeting on March 1, the vote to reject the late article was 7-0 with one abstention, chairman Larry Gomez told The Times in a phone call the next day.
Referring to the minutes, Mr. Gomez said the issue has been under discussion for some time, and committee members saw no reason why it could not have been filed in time. According to the minutes, "Bruce Lewellyn noted it took four years for the town to decide to allow the sale of beer and wine at restaurants, so it is inappropriate to bring this to the town with less than two months for the public's consideration."
Mr. Gomez, an ardent opponent of beer and wine sales, said, "The committee feels the town is not ready for another three- to four-hour battle at town meeting as to whether we sell wine at a farmer's market."
Mr. Gomez said the issue of alcohol sales was irrelevant. He said the FinCom rejected the article because it was filed late, and there was no discussion about whether or not it should be put on the ballot for voters to decide.
New law boosts farm wineries
Wine sales at farmer's markets were introduced recently in Massachusetts as a provision of an economic development bill Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law on August 5, 2010. Last summer, the Massachusetts Legislature's Environment and Agriculture Committee granted farmers the ability to apply to local liquor boards for temporary licenses to sell and sample wine at community events, including farmers' markets.
Licensed farm wineries must be certified by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to sell wine at approved events. They also need licenses from local liquor/license control boards where the events are held.
Under the new law, wine must be sold in sealed containers for off-premise consumption. Prospective customers age 21 and older may sample wine. Samples must not exceed one ounce of wine and no more than five may be served to an individual customer.
Wine proposal takes time to ripen
Wine sales at the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market first came up for discussion at the Tisbury selectmen's meeting on June 14, 2011.
The board of health referred a request to the selectmen received from Rob Russell of Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery for a temporary permit to sell wine at the market, based on the new legislation.
Assistant town administrator Aase Jones said town counsel David Doneski advised that the farm winery exemption, section 15F under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 138, did not apply in Tisbury because its beer and wine sales are governed by special home rule legislation. Town administrator John Bugbee said he would ask Mr. Doneski for clarification.
The issue did not come up again until the selectmen met on February 21. Frank Zoll, owner of Zoll Cellars winery in Shrewsbury and a representative of the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association made a pitch to the selectmen to put an article before voters at town meeting in April to adopt the new legislation.
Mr. Zoll said about 40 farm wineries in the state are approved for sales at farmers' markets, including his own, which produces about 500 cases annually.
"The industry is extremely challenging for a small producer like myself, to get a distributor to pick you up," Mr. Zoll said. "That's part of the reason the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association helped support this to get it passed."
Mr. Zoll said most towns are not familiar yet with the new law. He explained that the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market would have to be approved and certified by the MDAR for farm wine sales.
"I'm doing this in part because I do plan to put my wines in the Square Rigger Restaurant in Edgartown," Mr. Zoll said. "It would really help me to get to the farmer's market to introduce my product to the Island."
The selectmen also heard from Noreen Baker, organizer of the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market. She said rather than being open during the day on Tuesday the market would be open on Thursdays from 6:30 to 9:30 pm, with the Planning Board's approval.
Mr. Bugbee said town counsel had advised that the town's bylaw could be amended with voters' approval to include the farmer's market wine sales provision.
"I'm all for opening up that can of worms," selectman Jeff Kristal said, adding that Tisbury would be especially interested in promoting local Island farm wineries.
Selectman Tristan Israel was concerned that Tisbury's market might become dominated by a wine-tasting crowd. "If there are one or two people there giving wine samples, that would be great," he said. "We should be able to build in controls to limit vendors."
Mr. Gomez asked whether allowing wine samples would lead the town in a new direction.
"I wouldn't buy a bottle of wine at a farmer's market without sampling it," Mr. Kristal said. "And no one gets drunk off samples."
He and Mr. Israel agreed to draft a late-filed article to allow wine sales at the farmer's market. Selectman chairman Geoghan Coogan did not take part in the discussion because he had to leave the meeting early.