A round of recent legislative changes in Michigan could inspire craft beer and wine fans to raise a glass in Traverse City.
Governor Rick Synder signed Senate Bill 27 into effect on July 2, allowing restaurants and bars to sell refillable growlers for off-premises consumption. Previously, only breweries were permitted to sell growlers in the state. The Governor also signed Senate Bill 79 into law effective August 31, allowing the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) to issue permits to wine makers to sell wine and offer wine tastings at local farmers markets.
The latter law could have significant implications in a region renowned for both its wineries and its markets. According to data provided by the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council, more than a dozen wineries on Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula are considered to be “small wine makers” – those who manufacture or bottle less than 5,000 gallons of wine annually – and thus qualify for permits to sample and sell wine at farmers markets (larger wineries are excluded from the bill).
Rob Bacigalupi, interim executive director at the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA), says the soonest the DDA board of directors could review the new law and draft a policy for its implementation at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in Traverse City is October. That means local shoppers likely won't see wineries at Sara Hardy until next season. However, Bacigalupi says their presence would fit the spirit of the rules of the market, as “a winery is a grower.”
“Our biggest problem will just be finding room for them,” he says. “We filled up this year by June. It's on a first-come, first-serve basis (for vendors), so we'll have to look at the space over the winter and figure out how to fit them in.”
The bill stipulates that qualifying wineries must pay a $25 permit fee and $70 inspection fee to the MLCC as well as have the approval of both the farmers market manager and the local police department to receive a permit. Wineries must be in a clearly defined area of the market, utilize TIPS-certified employees, take responsibility for IDing customers and serve no more than three servings of two-ounce samples per person.
Detective Kevin Gay of the Traverse City Police Department says those requirements helped satisfy any potential concerns his department might have about the safety of serving alcohol at farmers markets.
“Our main concern would be overservice, but all those built-in recommendations by the state really ensures that shouldn't be a problem,” Gay says.
Not all area farmers markets are opening their doors to wineries, however. Raymond Minervini of the Minervini Group, which manages the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, says the Village has opted not to allow wineries at its year-round market due to the presence of other wineries already on the property, including Left Foot Charley and Black Star Farms.
“It's a fantastic idea for the appropriate market venue, and we would maybe consider it in the future, but right now we want to respect the winemakers we already have and focus on other types of goods,” Minervini says.
The Leelanau Farmers Market board could also take up the issue as soon as this month's board meeting. However, representatives of the market have said any changes would likely not be implemented until next season.
While it might still be several months before shoppers can purchase wine at a local farmers market, they can take advantage of expanded growler sales immediately. 7 Monks Taproom in Traverse City and the Hofbrau in Interlochen are among the dozens of area restaurants and bars now eligible to sell craft beer to go in refillable growlers. Both establishments have paid the $100 annual license fee to do so.
“It's another way people can enjoy our beer, only now they can take it home or out on the boat or on the golf course,” says Matt Cozzens, owner of 7 Monks, who says early customer response to the growlers has been enthusiastic. “It's a big convenience item.”
Hofbrau offers a choice of 20 beers to go in growlers, while 7 Monks offers a daily list of 5-6 brands. Cozzens says his taproom will also soon begin offering “growler days” on Tuesdays and Sundays, during which time an expanded list of rare and unique brews will be available to go.