South Carolina Considers Changing Its Alcohol Laws to Attract $400 Million E. & J. Gallo Wine Bottling Plant
Earlier this week, the South Carolina House of Representatives approved a piece of legislation that would allow E.& J. Gallo Winery to open a bottling plant and three tasting rooms in the state. The bill's supporters say that Gallo's proposal would provide several hundred jobs for South Carolina residents, while those who oppose it worry that it will negatively affect local wineries and restaurants.
The plant—which will actually start out as a large warehouse and distribution center—is expected to employ around 500 people. It will be located in Fort Lawn (Pop. 940) a rural town in equally rural Chester County. According to Wine Searcher, one tasting room could also open in Fort Lawn, while the others are likely to be in more tourist-friendly locations like Hilton Head and Charleston.
Bringing Gallo to South Carolina requires some modifications to the state's existing liquor laws. The Johnson City Press reports that the proposed legislation, SB 619, would allow breweries, distilleries, and wineries to open "satellite locations" where they can sell their products—and that's where the tasting rooms would come in.
Each of those facilities would only be allowed to sell wine, and they would be required to close by 5:30 p.m. Although the Gallo properties would have to purchase the wines they sell from wholesalers within the state, the bill's critics say that the tasting rooms would still be detrimental to local retailers, restaurants, and smaller wineries.
"We always seem to be in a rush to fashion new laws for some shiny object coming from out of state, bend over backwards to get rid of a system that we've had in place for a number of years," Sen. Marlon Kimpson told The State. "But the local restaurants tell me that these testing rooms unnecessarily drive up the competition."
But those in favor of the bill—and of the California company's willingness to open these facilities in South Carolin—say the positives absolutely outweigh the negatives. "This is a world player choosing to locate only its second [bottling and distribution center] in this teeny town," Sen. Mike Fanning said.
The plant is expected to be constructed on around 600 acres of land in Fort Lawn, and Gallo would invest more than $400 million in the county within the next eight years. Rob Donoho, the head of Gallo's global chain functions, said that the company "actively wants" to open this facility in South Carolina. "This is really intended to be our East Coast home for the Gallo enterprise for decades and decades to come," he told legislators this spring.