By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Two successful bills backed by the Idaho Wine Commission could make doing business in Idaho easier, and less expensive, for Idaho wineries.
But another bill that would have allowed an out-of-state wine producer to serve on the wine commission was rejected by lawmakers concerned about letting someone from outside the state have a say on important industry matters.
A bill that would ensure Idaho wineries don't have to pay a 45-cents-a-gallon excise tax for simply transferring wine to a warehouse or retail outlet passed the Idaho Legislature by a combined vote of 104-0 and will go into effect July 1.
Current law requires Idaho wineries to pay the excise tax if they simply transfer wine, "so I'm paying on something I may never sell," said Roger Batt, the IWC's legislative director.
Another bill that would increase the maximum container size that wineries are allowed to distribute or import wine in from 1 gallon to 15 gallons also easily passed the legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.
The Idaho wine industry has received numerous requests for larger wine containers, Batt told lawmakers, but current law only allows wine to be distributed in up to 1-gallon containers.
If wineries want to sell wine in larger containers, they have to receive permission from the director of the Idaho State Police each time, he said. Plus, he added, wineries in California and Washington are allowed to ship wine in up to 12-liter bottles directly to the state, which puts Idaho wineries at a competitive disadvantage.
"That's really not fair to our industry," Batt said. "Our industry really feels that it's likely to see an increase in revenue due to this increase in container size."
The bill that would allow an out-of-state producer actively engaged in wine production in Idaho to serve on the wine commission won't pass because of lawmakers' concerns. The industry wants to allow the president of the company that owns Ste. Chapelle, by far Idaho's largest wine producer, to serve on the commission.
That person has a wealth of expertise on industry matters "and we felt it would be advantageous to the Idaho wine industry to have this option available to us," said IWC commissioner and winemaker Gregg Alger. Someone like that, he added, "could add a lot of strategy, planning and input at a commission level."
The bill's chances died after members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee expressed concern about allowing someone who lives outside of Idaho to have a say on grower assessments.
"I have a tough time with that," said Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder.
Batt said she understands why industry supports the bill. But, she added, "I'm not comfortable with having someone from outside of the state come in and vote on tax matters in Idaho."