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Compromises discussed
Rep. Trebor Worthen, author of House Bill 1753 allowing wineries to ship out of state, said the measure helps the wine industry, but admits it doesn't solve the overall problem of direct shipment into Oklahoma. A compromise could come in the next legislative session, but it will take lawmakers from both political parties to realize they won't get all they want in a deal, he said.
One direction a compromise may go is allowing direct shipment from wineries with only a limited volume, which would include most of the small Oklahoma wineries. But even that solution has some kinks because some of the most exclusive and expensive wine comes from wineries that make only 500 cases a year, Worthen said.
Winery owner Butler acknowledges Oklahoma wineries are not the true threat in the fight - they are too small to make a huge sales impact with wholesalers - but if Oklahoma wines are allowed to ship in-state, out-of-state wineries must be allowed to ship in as well.
Before June 15, Oklahoma law allowed in-state wineries to sell directly to liquor stores, bypassing the wholesalers. But that law was thrown out, with a federal district court saying it violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause by giving an unfair advantage to in-state wineries not afforded to those outside Oklahoma. So any compromise would have to encompass both in-state and out-of-state wineries.
Butler said he is polling his members and hopes to talk with wholesalers before next session to see if there are areas of agreement. He said Oklahoma wineries are not opposed to the wholesaler system in general, but for smaller wineries, it isn't cost effective for wholesalers or owners.
"We want to find some middle ground that gives them the protection they are looking for and gives the small winery the ability to grow until we need the wholesalers to help sell our product," he said. "Once volume reaches a certain point, the wholesaler system will be a useful tool we will need to tap into."


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