MEDICINE PARK_ Oklahoma wineries are gearing up for a vote that would allow them to sell their products directly to liquor stores. The passage of state question 743 would allow small business winemakers from Oklahoma and other states, to bypass wholesalers and put their bottles on the shelves of liquors stores and restaurants.
Currently, state wineries are limited to sales at fairs and festivals. The new proposal would only make third-party distribution a requirement for large wineries.
If it passes, a winery in Medicine Park says it will boost its business, because it will be able to sell, promote, and distribute its wine at its discretion, and keep all the profits from it.
"It's like a David and Goliath situation," said Marty Hazelwood, co-owner of the Winery of the Wichitas in Medicine Park.
Hazelwood and two friends opened the winery in 2005. Back then they could sell their wine to anyone, anywhere. "We were distributing at some of the package stores in Lawton, and some of the restaurants," Hazelwood said. "And the next big push was going to be Oklahoma City, Tulsa."
But that never happened, because last year a judge ruled that wineries being able to distribute their own products violated federal commerce law, because out-of-state wineries can't do that. They have to go through distributors. So for the last year, Oklahoma wineries have had to do that too, with distributors keeping up to 30-percent of the profits. Hazelwood says that's just not reasonable for small wineries. "I don't know of any business that could take a hit of 'well you know you can sell this product, but you have to give this guy over here that has a warehouse, you have to give him 30 percent of the cost of that product. And then we'll let you sell it wherever you want,'" she said.
She says that's particularly unnerving because she is forced to use a distributor, but they don't have to guarantee her sales. "The Oklahoma distributors do not have to distribute Oklahoma wines unless they feel like it," she said. "There's nothing in the law that the law works both ways. It's not mandatory that they distribute our products."
Hazelwood says the new proposal would allow small wineries like hers, which produce less than 10-thousand gallons of wine a year, to distribute and promote their own wines. "It's just allowing us to do business the way we should be able to do business," she said.
Hazelwood says if she can get her wine into more local restaurants and out to more retailers, it'll boost popularity, and draw more people up to her winery.
You'll get a chance to vote on this issue on the November ballot.
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