Growing Maryland Wine
While the Maryland Wine Industry is becoming more well known, we are many years behind our neighbors Virginia and Pennsylvania. For obvious business reasons, Maryland wineries are always trying to work together to promote the overall awareness/image of Maryland wine. It is not as apparent what the state does to support it. In the early 2000s, the Maryland Wine & Grape was created and initially funded to do an economic impact study. Upon the studies completion in 2005, the commission went dormant because there was no funding source for it. In 2013, new legislation was created that granted the commission would receive a small percentage of the excise tax paid by the wineries to fund Maryland’s Wine and Grape Promotion Fund. The primary goal of the commission now is to facilitate the funding of projects that help grow (pun intended) the wine and grape industry in Maryland. I am currently the chair of this small committee. It consists of two members each from both the vineyard and winery sides of the industry, and single representatives from Maryland Senate, Maryland House of Delegates, Maryland Dept. of Agriculture, Maryland Dept. of Tourism, University of Maryland Extension and Office of the Comptroller. Additionally, representatives from the Maryland Wineries and Grape Growers Association attend.
We usually meet twice a year after having solicited grant proposals for projects that will help the industry. Proposals can come from any nongovernmental organization or business. There is only about $160,000 for us distribute each year, making it is crucial we review these grant requests carefully and prioritize which ones we think will have the most impact for the entire industry. We want to raise both the quality and awareness of Maryland Wine. Some past funded vineyard focused projects have been matching funds for those planting more acres of grapes, a business plan model for those interested in becoming a commercial vineyard, and helping to fund a pathologist fellowship for the University of Maryland. On the winery side, we have contributed funds to projects such as creating a new Maryland wine economic impact study, rebranding of Maryland wine, and an educational speaker series.
In addition to reviewing these grant applications, we have broad industry discussions about observations that wine and grape member associations are seeing and where the commission may be of help. Also, we receive updates from all of the departments in attendance on issues affecting our industries and what work is still needed to resolve them. Since the Comptroller is currently the regulator of Maryland wineries and is the taxman, their office gives us a current update of where the industry stands. At our most recent meeting, they reported that there are now 115 licensed wineries in the state and, as a whole, sold almost 450,000 gallons of wine. Another fun fact provided is who drinks the most wine per capita (all wine sales not, just Maryland wines). The winner is Talbot County, by far!
For all the ways the commission impacts our industries, I am sure you can see why it is my great honor and pleasure to serve on this board and help my grow Maryland wine!