Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Certified Florida Farm Winery"...Does the Florida Legislature Need to Update the Rules?

By far, the number one wine producing State in the U.S.A. is California. Close to 1 million people are employed directly by the California wine industry. Sales of California wines are somewhere in the 30 Billion dollar range. California has worked hard to build their wine industry and to position their State as a "Premier" Wine producing State. The California State Legislature and the people of California have consistently, throughout the years, supported the growth and prosperity of their vineyards and wineries. They have been able to compete successfully on the the World stage, in part, due to this hometown support.
Florida, however, has not earned a reputation as a "Premier" Wine producing State, even though Florida is the "Third" largest Wine Consuming State in the nation! Floridians should ask the question...WHY? Currently, Florida is suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country...12% unemployment. A thriving wine industry in Florida could help put many Floridians back to work!
A cursory comparison between the two states, California and Florida, might be helpful. Both California and Florida grow many of the same crops, due to similar growing conditions. Just consider..."Oranges, Tomatoes, many Truck Crops, etc.". Grapes, however, are not even on the scope of most people. Does this mean that Florida doesn't have the ability to produce "World Class" wines?...Absolutely...NOT!
The Florida Legislature has been collecting taxes from wine sales for decades. Most of these taxes have been directed towards grape research and development at our major Florida universities. Some wonderful research has been done and our grape knowledge has been greatly enhanced. The fact still remains, however, that Florida is "NOT" recognized as a "Premier" Wine producing State! So, where do we go from here?
First, let's take a look at the rule book titled the..."Certified Florida Farm Winery" written, years ago, by the Florida Legislature.
For your convenience, I've copied it, below:

599.004 Florida Farm Winery Program; registration; logo; fees.--
(1) The Florida Farm Winery Program is established within the Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services. Under this program, a winery may qualify as a tourist attraction only if it is
registered with and certified by the department as a Florida Farm Winery. A winery may not
claim to be certified unless it has received written approval from the department.
(a) To qualify as a certified Florida Farm Winery, a winery shall meet the following standards:
1. Produce or sell less than 250,000 gallons of wine annually.
2. Maintain a minimum of 10 acres of owned or managed vineyards in Florida.
3. Be open to the public for tours, tastings, and sales at least 30 hours each week.
4. Make annual application to the department for recognition as a Florida Farm Winery, on
forms provided by the department.
5. Pay an annual application and registration fee of $100.
(b) To maintain certification and recognition as a Florida Farm Winery, a winery must comply
with the qualifications provided in this section. The Commissioner of Agriculture is authorized
to officially recognize a certified Florida Farm Winery as a state tourist attraction.
(2)(a) The department, in coordination with the Viticulture Advisory Council, shall develop and
designate by rule a Florida Farm Winery logo, emblem, and directional sign to guide the public
to certified Florida Farm Winery tourist attractions. The logo and emblem of certified Florida
Farm Winery signs shall be uniform.
(b) Upon the request of a certified Florida Farm Winery, the Department of Transportation shall
acquire and place Florida Farm Winery logo, emblem, and directional signs on the rights-of-way
of interstate highways and primary and secondary roads. All costs for placing each sign shall be
paid by the certified Florida Farm Winery requesting the sign. However, the cost of placing a
sign shall not exceed $250 and the annual permit fee shall not exceed $50.
(c) Each certified Florida Farm Winery shall pay to the Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services a licensing fee of $10 each year for each Florida Farm Winery logo, emblem,
and directional sign in place.
(3) All fees collected, except as otherwise provided by this section, shall be deposited into the
Viticulture Trust Fund and used to develop consumer information on the native characteristics
and proper use of wines.

Please note that I've highlighted #2 in red. This is the single rule that has done the most to prevent the growth of the Farm Wineries in Florida!
Florida wineries can come in all kinds of shapes (check out our own "Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery" ). Under the current rules, only grape wineries are recognized as Florida Farm Wineries and only those grape wineries with neatly plowed and cultivated rows. Any winery that produces wines from "fruits & vegetables" is discriminated against, as are those wineries that produce wines from their wild and freely growing grapes, old growth citrus and/or elderberries.
Here's the real killer. There is "NO" requirement that the current Florida Farm Wineries grow their own grapes or even produce their wines from "Only" Florida grown grapes. Many are "importing" juices from California and other places. This has nothing to do with promoting Florida grapes, Florida grape growing or growing the Florida wine industry. Their only requirement is that they plow up 10 acres and plant some grapes. Those "Other" wineries (check out our "Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery" ) are producing their grape wines "Only" from Florida grapes that they grow or harvest from their entire 23 acres. Yet, they cannot even apply for certification as a Florida Farm Winery. In the case of "Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery", we are a 'Green' environmentally responsible winery. We recycle 100% of our wine bottles, promote Florida wines, provide wine education and produce all of our wines in harmony with the Earth and Mother Nature. The backs of all our wine labels proudly display the "From Florida Logo"! Even the U.S.D.A. has recognized our uniqueness by including us in their 2011 Spring Soil & Conservation tours.
Yet, today, the old and obsolete rules still prevail.
To enable Florida to become a "Premier" wine producing State, every antiquated obstacle must be removed. The Florida Legislature must update the rule book to reflect the changes that have occurred in wine production in Florida. Producing Florida wines in a "Green" and sustainable way should not only be recognized, but encouraged! Those Florida wineries that produce wines from Florida grown Fruits and Vegetables should be welcomed into the Certified Florida Farm Wineries program with opened arms. Arbitrary rules regarding planted acreage should no longer be used to exclude any Florida winery.
Everything that we do should be about transforming Florida into a "Premier" wine producing State and putting our fellow Floridians back to work!

Salute & Happy Days!

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