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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Set back for local brew at farmers' markets

Closing Time: Beer and Wine at Markets Put on Hold

By DAVE FISHER/ News staff
PROVIDENCE — A few weeks ago, ecoRI News published a roundup of environmental bills and resolutions that were being introduced by the General Assembly. One of those bills would have allowed local wineries and brewpubs to sell their libations at farmers’ markets. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jared Nunes, Coventry/West Warwick, pulled the bill before it was even heard by the House Committee on Corporations.
He pulled the original bill for several reasons.
One, he wanted to remove the words “for consumption” from the bill. “It was never my intent to allow people to be drinking at the farmers’ markets,” he said.

Two, he wanted to create a separate class of “grower-brewers.” Adding this designation in the bill, according to Nunes, would allow those that grow hops on their land and brew beer to access the farmers’ markets as distribution centers.
Three, “I never requested a hearing on the bill," he said. The bill was added to the House corporations docket without his knowledge.
And lastly, Nunes expects lobbyists for Rhode Island liquor distribution companies to fight this tooth and nail. Namely, the state's top paid lobbyist, Robert Goldberg, who represents the United Independent Liquor Retailers of Rhode Island. Goldberg had already signed on to testify at the last scheduled hearing. “I just didn’t have all of my ducks in a row as far as those who were testifying,” Nunes said, “and I need some numbers if Bob Goldberg is involved.”
“Bob Goldberg has a lot of clout on Smith Hill. It’s easier for him to get a meeting with the Speaker than it is for me," Nunes said without a hint of humor in his voice.
Last year, Massachusetts passed a similar law, though lobbying by liquor distributors and retailers effectively put the kibosh on beer sales at farmers' markets. “The reason that the (beer and winemaking) industry is not flourishing here is because of how the laws are written,” Nunes said. “We need to rewrite these laws to jump-start this industry in Rhode Island.”
Nunes isn't optimistic about this bill getting passed into law. “I’d be lying if I said I was confident that this will pass. For one, we’ve yet to find a suitable sponsor in the state Senate," he said.
A similar dustup, though much smaller in scale, occurred last year when a new farmers’ market opened in North Providence. Local produce store owners believed that the market operated at an unfair advantage due to lower overhead costs, but farmers and producers are required to carry the same licensing and insurance to which any other business is subject.
Before liquor retailers get their collective shorts in a knot over this proposed law, here are a few things to consider:
Does your store already carry wines and beers from local producers?
If not, why? The market for locally crafted wines and brews is the only growth sector in the liquor industry today.
Selling local wine and beer for three to four hours at a farmers’ market could serve as a powerful marketing tool to nearby stores that carry these brands the rest of the week.
“This bill is a win for the communities that have farmers’ markets, a win for the growers, a win for Rhode Island’s brewers and winemakers,” Nunes said, “and a win for the consumer by giving them a choice.”
Those who wish to testify on behalf of the new bill (H7301) should contact Rep. Jared Nunes directly at Anyone who wishes to testify against this bill, save your breath — you’ve got Rhode Island's most influential lobbyist on your side. Nunes has resubmitted the bill, and it will be heard by the House Committee on Corporations after the General Assembly’s upcoming break.