In 2000 the Oklahoma wine industry was struggling. The Oklahoma Constitution stated that wineries had to use the wholesalers to reach retail liquor stores and restaurants but said that wholesalers did not have to carry their wines. State Question 688 was presented to the people of Oklahoma asking to change the constitution to allow Oklahoma Wineries to sell directly to retail liquor stores and restaurants.
In 2006 we have 34 active wineries and at least 6 others in the license phase. This is in part due to SQ 688. The Oklahoma grape and wine industry is the fastest growing value added agriculture crop in Oklahoma. Our wineries have been a major component in the growth of wine excise taxes paid to the state. Our rural economic development is creating attractive communities for returning Oklahoma retires to enjoy quality of life they learned to enjoy during their careers outside of Oklahoma.
Now the wholesalers have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SQ 688 and have convinced the lawmakers that the only way to solve the problem is to 'level down'. This takes the Oklahoma wine industry back to where we were. We are forced to use a system that does not have any reason to carry our wines. This could be the death of the fastest growing agricultural business in the state.
Many of our wineries have developed strong relationships with retail stores and restaurants and losing the ability to maintain this relationship will put many wineries in jeopardy. This will force wineries to cut their already slim margin or force the consumer to pay more for our wines.
Many states are facing this challenge. Arizona, Illinois and Indiana have bills that are trying to allow out-of-state wineries to sell directly to retail and restaurants. Washington has already passed legislation to do the same.
Wine distribution has been managed in Oklahoma in a way that’s antiquated and stifles competition. Why not move forward, not backward? Why not a solution that favors the consumer’s choice over wholesalers controls? Why damage the small farm based family owned businesses that employ thousands, either directly or in-directly? Why keep an antiquated distribution system that was created before computers and the internet. As a result, the consumer has to pay higher prices and has limited choices.
We urge the people of Oklahoma to contact their legislators and tell them they want the Oklahoma Wine Industry to move forward not backwards.
We urge our retail store clients and restaurants to proudly stock their Oklahoma wine products.
Someday we will free the grapes for Oklahoma consumers.
Oklahoma Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association (OGGWMA)