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Published January 22, 2013, 03:11 PM

ND wine group to lobby legislature

FARGO, N.D. - It’s now called the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association, and the state’s growers and vintners are again working toward a direct-to-retail marketing agenda in the North Dakota State Legislature.

By: Mikkel Pates, Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. - It’s now called the North Dakota Grape and Wine Association, and the state’s growers and vintners are again working toward a direct-to-retail marketing agenda in the North Dakota State Legislature.

House Bill 1077 passed in the House Industry, Business and Labor committee by a 15-0 vote on Jan. 14. This time, the group got the endorsement by the North Dakota Wholesale Beer Association, which Greg Krieger, a board member and former president, calls a "welcome change." One of the key proponents is Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot.

The group also is promoting a funding bill for continuing research at North Dakota State University, along with money for marketing and education on grapes and wine. SB2146 is sponsored by Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot, and will be considered by the Agriculture Committee.

Krieger says the organization added "grape" to its name, in a change that was passed by the board in late October and became official at the end of November.

Four years ago, a Minnesota professor spoke to the group at a meeting in Carrington, N.D., and strongly suggested a change to include the wineries. "It’s pretty obvious that most of our grapes are going for wine. That’s why we’re growing them, pretty much overwhelmingly," says Krieger, a crop consultant and vineyard owner.

The grape and wine group is more optimistic this session about passing its direct-to-retail authorization, which means a winery will be able to sell a case of wine directly to a restaurant, bar or bottle shop without having to go through a wholesaler.

"Wholesalers are designed to ship big volumes and it doesn’t make economic sense for them to run down to a winery - wherever - pick up a case or couple dozen cases," Krieger says. "It’s not efficient for them, but that was what was required by the legal framework that we were working under. We are very hopeful that will be changed in the near future.

"We were really close two years ago," Krieger says. The measure lost by one vote. In the last legislature the House passed it, overturning a do-not-pass recommendation in committee. Then the Senate took the issue to a one-vote deficit.

The North Dakota Beer Wholesalers in 2011 opposed the bill for regulation, taxation and safety reasons, as well as the fear of litigation from out-of-state wineries. Many legislators are focused on it this session, Krieger says.

"It shouldn’t be this hard to promote small business in North Dakota," he says. A couple of huge wholesalers do about 98 percent of the wine business in the state.

The newly named organization holds its annual meeting Feb. 8 and 9 in Bismarck. Information can be found on its website at www.NDGGA.org. The event begins with wine tasting and a wine competition. The second day includes educational seminars and a banquet.

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