March 4, 2010

Lawmakers urged to drop wine-tasting rule

Susan M. Cover

AUGUSTA — Wine shop owners told lawmakers Monday that they have lost business because of a law that requires them to shield wine tastings from children's view.

Business owners from Southwest Harbor to Portland testified in support of bills that would remove that requirement, added as an amendment to legislation that passed last year.

Almost immediately after the law took effect in September, owners of small wine shops complained that it was nearly impossible for them to comply.

Scott Worcester of Southwest Harbor, who owns Sawyer's Specialties, said he once had to tell a father with a young child that he couldn't come into the shop to buy crackers because the store was in the middle of a wine tasting.

Others passed by his store and thought it was closed because of window coverings that were put up to ''preclude the possibility of observation by children.''

''Since the enactment of this law, not only have we lost wine business -- but business in general,'' Worcester said. ''When your livelihood depends on these sales, this law has clearly crossed the line of common sense and should be amended immediately.''

That's why Reps. Stacey Allen Fitts, R-Pittsfield, and David Webster, D-Freeport, submitted bills to remove the requirement. The Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee held Monday's hearing on the bills -- L.D. 1628 and L.D. 1691.

The committee's Senate chair, Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, said committee members were ''extremely upset'' when they realized the effect the law is having across the state. ''It made us look very unfriendly toward our small wineries,'' she said.

The House chair, Rep. Pamela Trinward, D-Waterville, said the intent of the amendment was to give families with small children a chance to shield their children from tastings at big grocery stores.

She said she envisioned a woman with small children coming upon a tasting and being surprised. ''We really were trying to identify that piece,'' she said. ''I agree we went too far.''

Louanne Manter, owner of Downtown Gifts & Crafts in Augusta, said she sells a variety of Maine-made products that appeal to adults and children. Once the new law took effect, she said, she switched her wine tastings to later in the day, in hopes that children would be less likely to try to enter her store.

''I have lost about one-third of my customers due to this change in time for the wine-tasting event, for a myriad of reasons,'' she said.

Maryanne Prince, owner of The Vinery in Augusta, presented the committee with a petition containing an estimated 1,000 signatures from customers who support changing the law.

She said her 800-square-foot store isn't conducive to the curtains or screens needed to separate a tasting from the rest of the store.

Bob Rossi came up from Portland to support the law change. ''As a consumer of wine, tastings are necessary,'' he said. ''I hate to spend hard-earned money without trying (the wine).''

The committee will consider the bills in a work session Feb. 3.


MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:


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