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Lawmakers to try again to ease restrictions on wine containers, craft distilleries

Floridians could soon buy wine bottles that rival the size of toddlers.

Floridians could soon buy wine bottles that rival the size of toddlers.

There are several bills introduced for this Session that aim to relax regulations surrounding beer, wine and craft distilleries. Attempts to get these through previous Sessions have been unsuccessful. 

Currently, state law prohibits selling more than a gallon of wine in a single container. A bill (HB 6037) sponsored by Republican State Rep. Chip LaMarca of Lighthouse Point would repeal that restriction. 

That would allow wine bottles in much bigger sizes. The standard size is 750 milliliters, which is about five servings. But the bill introduced by LaMarca and others like Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini’s (HB 583) open the door to containers holding the equivalent of 6,8, or 12 bottles of wine. And for those very special occasions is the “Balthazar” size, which is 12 liters or 16 bottles, or the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which holds 15 liters — the equivalent of 20 bottles of wine. 

“I know plenty of folks in the restaurant business that are like ‘We would love to get the bigger bottles,’” said lobbyist Josh Aubuchon of Holland & Knight. “It’s like A, it’s cool — it’s like a neat visual thing and then 2 it’s cost-effective.”

Sabatini does away with container size limitations on wine and cider. His legislation would also allow restaurant patrons to take home a partially consumed bottle of wine without having to eat a complete meal, including a salad or vegetable, entree, beverage and bread. 

“What this (bill) would do is simplify it,” Aubuchon said. “Basically like if you go out and you have a bottle of wine and you don’t finish, you can cork it and take it home. It just makes sense that you should be able to do that. So all of these bills are covering that.” 

Aubuchon said there are companies from California which are using box containers for higher quality wine because the plastic bags don’t allow air in and it stays fresher longer. 

“You think of Franzia, that’s always like the lower quality stuff, but the higher quality wine, they’re looking at it now where you can go to the wine shop and you know you can pick out your size,” he said. “Those bigger sizes are more convenient for those and because they’re one way, they don’t allow any air in.”

Sabatini’s bill also helps craft distilleries by allowing them to blend their products with other spirits. It increases the yearly maximum production threshold from 75,000 gallons to 250,000. It also removes the limitations on the number of bottles per brand per consumer that may be sold in a year and permits distilleries to get a vendor’s license to sell alcohol on-site. His bill like the others, also allows distillers to ship to out-of-state customers.

While the other bills also remove size restrictions on wine containers, Key Largo Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein’s legislation (HB 1165) also permits vendors to allow dogs in certain areas. As long as they’re kept on a leash and away from areas of food storage and prep.

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ bill (SB 482) and Raschein’s allow distilleries to do tastings. Brandes’ legislation and Raschein’s also allow production capacity of up to 250,000 gallons a year. 

Palm Coast Republican Sen. Travis Hutson’s bill (SB 138) raises production to 200,000 gallons.   

In last year’s Session, craft distilleries like St Pete’s American Freedom Distillery and St. Augustine Distillery advocated for legislation that would have allowed them to hold public tastings and raise production capacity to 175,000 gallons. It would also have allowed them to ship to customers out-of-state. But the bills sponsored by Brandes, Raschein and State Rep. Jackie Toldeo, a Republican from Tampa, died before reaching the floor for a vote. 

Aubuchon is hopeful some of the legislation will gain traction this Session despite opposition from some distributors.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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