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Legislation to protect wineries on hold

Legislation to protect wineries on hold

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SPRINGFIELD - Despite an earlier agreement, legislation aimed at protecting Illinois' fledgling wine industry remains bottled up in the Illinois House.

The proposal, which sought to strike a balance between the state's liquor distributors and in-state wine makers, was put in a legislative holding tank after retailers and some vineyards said the plan could hurt them.

Now, as the spring session of the General Assembly begins to wind down, it is unclear whether any proposal will trickle out to the floor of the Illinois House for a vote.

"The water has been muddied," said Kim Morreale, who helped negotiate the plan on behalf of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. "We're optimistic, but I don't know if that's realistic."

Discussions about changing state law began brewing last May after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling raised questions about the ability of wineries to ship wine directly to customers.

Lengthy talks resulted in a tentative agreement that would require the state's wineries to work with a distributor if they wanted their products sold in retail stores. It also placed limits on the amount of wine the vineyards can sell directly to customers.

But after the agreement was trumpeted by both sides, a handful of wineries and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association began crying foul. Some of the state's 63 wineries, for example, expressed concern that they might be forced into entering into contracts with distributors that aren't beneficial to their business.

The retail merchants said the proposal could give out-of-state competitors equal footing to enter the Illinois wine shipping market.

"We're trying to ensure that Illinois retailers can continue to ship wine," said IRMA lobbyist Rob Karr.

Without an agreement in place, the legislation has been put on hold. It remains unclear whether the sides will come together before lawmakers adjourn for the summer.

If nothing is approved, Morreale said Illinois wineries could find themselves facing lawsuits based on last year's high court ruling.

"It's really a shame because of all the work that went into this," said Morreale.

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