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Maryland lawmaker wants to let residents order kosher wines

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Local,Maryland,Food and Drink,Rachel Baye

A Maryland lawmaker wants to allow residents to buy kosher wine directly from stores and online retailers outside the state.

The General Assembly in 2011 eased its long-standing ban on direct purchases to allow residents to buy wine online, but only from wineries in the country or stores in Maryland.

For Jewish Marylanders who keep kosher, that presents a problem because most kosher wines are made in Israel and France.

Del. Sam Arora, D-Silver Spring, said he is drafting a bill that would allow residents to order kosher wine from online retailers like kosherwine.com.

"I don't think the industry wants to deny kosher wine consumers the ability to live out their faith," he said.

For a wine to be kosher, it must have been produced, handled and supervised by observant Jews on kosher equipment and certified by a rabbi, and it cannot contain any nonkosher ingredients.

"There are about 200 kosher wineries in Israel, but right now in Maryland, there are only 35 that are available," explained Cailey Locklair, director of government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council. She pointed to the relatively small selection of kosher wine that retailers sell compared with nonkosher varieties -- meaning less profit for store owners.

In the areas near Baltimore and the District, where Jewish populations are larger, stores might have two rows of kosher wines, but they are generally more expensive than they would be online, said Karen Barall, director of Maryland government and community relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. In areas farther from urban centers, "you're lucky if you have two bottles of kosher wine in a regular liquor store."

Even if a resident does live close to the District, it is a crime to carry more than a gallon of wine -- roughly six standard-size bottles -- across Maryland's border.

That makes stocking up for holidays like Passover, when the ritual calls for every person to have four glasses of wine, very difficult, Barall said.

The Maryland Wineries Association frequently gets questions about whether any Maryland vineyards produce kosher wine -- none do -- and where residents can buy kosher wine, said Executive Director Kevin Atticks. "They are looking for many, many expansions of the current law."

Atticks said his association would support a change in the law even though it could bring an increase in competition.

"Our competition is wine from California, wine from Australia, wine from China -- everywhere -- and we believe that competition is good, and a free market is good."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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