Wine Tasting Coming to Farmers Markets

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Heather Price wishes the Sandhill Crane Winery in Jackson could offer tastings at farmers markets, but the way the law is written, that's not possible.

"It was kind of disappointing when [the law] came in with such a small limit," said Price, the co-owner and operations manager.

Her winery is small by a lot of standards, she said, but not the state's in this case. By law, only wineries that produce fewer than 5,000 gallons (or 2,000 cases) of wine a year can sell at farmers markets -- a benchmark about half of the state's wineries meet. Sandhill Crane produces more than twice that amount.

Burgdorf's Winery in Haslett is right at that threshold, but its co-owner David Burgdorf says the exclusion isn't in the customer's best interest.

"I put myself on the customer's side," he said. "If I go to a wine tasting I want to taste wines of Michigan. I know some of the bigger wineries and then I will try some of the small ones too, but I would want to make the availability of wanting to try all wines."

But regardless of whether his winery meets the requirements, Burgdorf says he likely won't be selling at a farmers market anytime soon because of the expenses that he says can be especially taxing on a small operation.

"You've got the salaries, you've got the fees, people sitting there to sell a couple of bottles? For me it's not going to be a big win," he said. "They don't want to buy a $30 bottle of wine at a thing and it's going to be hot or damaged and brought back home.

"Every bottle is precious and I can't lose one. You're going to lose some if you go there."

Heather Price on the other hand sees the chance to sell, provided it can be afforded, to be nothing but a benefit.

"I think it would be a great money-making thing and it would be great marketing as well," she said. "When you take your product to a metropolitan area and you just have to pay for the rental stall and you don't have to find a storefront and pay for that kind of rent, it's like having a mini-tasting room in a really wonderful area."

She calls wine a natural fit for a farmers market: it's an agricultural product and there's a local audience for it.

Plus, she says, it's something new and exciting to complement the produce and other products already on the market.

Elaine Ferris, president of the Mason Farmers Market Association says she thinks wine will be a big draw and expand the market's appeal.

"We're trying to be a destination to everybody," she said. "To have it at the market would bring people that have never been here and see no reason to come to a market."