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Bill would allow wine, beer at farmer's markets

New legislation in the Rhode Island House of Representatives may allow local wineries and breweries to sell their products at farmer's   markets in Rhode Island. Currently, these companies are required to go through a distributor in order to sell wine and beer at the markets. 

State Rep. Jared Nunes, D-Coventry and West Warwick, said he introduced the bill after being approached by a constituent who works at the West Warwick Farmer's Market, who told him local alcohol producers visit the market to hand out samples but get frustrated by not being able to make a profit, Nunes said. 

Laws permitting the sale of alcoholic products from wineries and breweries at markets already exist in Massachusetts and Vermont, said Noah Fulmer, director at Farm Fresh Rhode Island. The businesses are allowed to keep more of their profits by cutting out the middle men. 

Portsmouth-based Greenvale Vineyards often crosses the border to sell its products in Boston, said Maggie Harnett, tasting room and events manager at the vineyard. She said she supports the legislation because local vineyards are so similar to the farming operations that form the core of local markets. 

"Once you really take a look at how much work goes into maintaining the vines and paying property tax for all this open space, it's a pretty labor intensive, true farming operation," she said. 

It is helpful for a business to be able to deal directly with its customers, she added. "That's the best way to get people familiar with their products … going out and putting it right in their face."

But a struggle with liquor distributors may ensue as the legislation moves forward, Nunes said. If beer and wine makers can sell at public markets, it will undermine distributors' role in other sales, Nunes said. "They will protect that at all costs," he added. 

But Nunes said he thinks the move would stimulate extra economic activity. "It's a win-win," he said.

Sale of beer and wine at the on-campus Wriston Farmers Market would depend on the University's discretion, Nunes said. State law does not prohibit sale of alcohol on university campuses.

But the prospect of alcohol sales at the market is unlikely, said Sheri Griffin, program director at Farm Fresh Rhode Island who works with Dining Services on the market. 

"We don't normally do more exotic things at the market," she said. 


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