A Massachusetts winery, the self-proclaimed "guinea pig" of a new state-approved farmers market program, squeaked its application by the Braintree license board on Tuesday afternoon and now has permission to sell wine each Saturday at Town Hall.
Coastal Vineyards, an 8-acre farm in Dartmouth, has been offering wine tasting and selling bottles to customers in several towns this winter and summer, and hit its first pocket of resistance in the form of the Braintree Board of License Commissioners. The board voted 3-2 to allow the vineyard to sell wine, but not provide tasting, through the end of the market's season this fall.
Owner David Neilson said he was unaware that regulations developed locally for Braintree's new Special Farmer Winery Licenses prohibited tasting. Braintree is the first city or town he has come across that only allows selling, Neilson said. He has also done business in Quincy, Attleboro, Somerville, Cambridge and other communities.
"We've had absolutely no problems," Neilson said. "In many cases, people would rather have less than more."
But tasting is out of the question, board member Marybeth McGrath said, unless a public hearing is held to modify the regulations put in place last month.
"I know it's difficult, probably, to perceive that it's not a drinking fest," Neilson said. "But the amount of alcohol we provide a customer is extremely minimal."
Neilson said that up to an ounce is allowed by law, but that he or his TIPS-certified employees typically pour a half ounce or less. Coastal Vineyard's wine is usually between 12 and 12.5 percent alcohol.
Two members – Town Clerk Joe Powers and Police Chief Paul Frazier – had a problem not just with tasting, but also with the overall idea of selling wine at the "seat of our government." They both voted against the approval of Coastal Vineyard's application.
Donna Ingemanson, a member of Sustainable Braintree and organizer of the market, spoke out in favor of the wine licenses. She argued that they help boost the economy and help small growers.
Powers pushed back against the idea that the board should be involved in promoting an industry, saying that the legislation passed by the state legislature last August must have been the result of an "incredibly powerful and effective lobbyist" because it does not mesh with other existing liquor license laws.
"We are not Sustainable Braintree. We are not the Farmers Market," Powers said. "I've had a hard time wrapping my head around the legislation."
Prior to the vote, Frazier made a final plea to keep wine selling away from Town Hall, which both he and Powers noted is near a school, church, library and baseball field.
"I'm just philosophically opposed to the selling of wine or any alcohol at a building that's at the center of our government," Frazier said.
The application discussion also hit a snag regarding the number of vineyards that would ultimately be allowed to operate at the farmers market. Ingemanson said she was under the impression that the regulations limited the number on a particular Saturday to two vendors. In fact, Powers said, there are only two licenses available for the whole season.
This conflicted with what Neilson said he has been doing in other towns, namely trading days with other vineyards, setting up shop once a week, biweekly or monthly. In Braintree, officials said they fashioned regulations that limit that type of activity to keep the scheduling burden off the town.
That may hurt customers, though, Ingemanson said, because having variety on subsequent weekends, like Sustainable Braintree does with its cupcake vendors, is important.
"It keeps the market fresh and more interesting," she said.