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Sales tax exemption for winery tastings, more money for hops and malting barley research

ALBANY – Two initiatives stemming from the second Wine, Beer, Spirits and Cider Summit to support New York State's local wineries and breweries were announced on Thursday.

Consumers can now enjoy tax-free tastings at wineries that charge a nominal per-person fee, and which are already exempt from paying a use-tax on the wine used for tastings. Additionally, $350,000 in funding will go to research hops and malting barley, key beer-brewing ingredients, to help specialists understand the varieties and differences that work best for New York agriculture.

“New York is home to world-class wineries and craft breweries, and by launching these initiatives we are looking to further grow the industry, as well as increase the production of locally made products,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “When New York brewers buy from New York growers and producers, jobs are created, our economy grows stronger and everyone wins.”

 At the Summit in April, the Governor launched a $6 million marketing and promotional campaign to raise the profile of New York’s beverage producers – beer, spirits, cider, and the burgeoning wine industry. For more information about New York’s growing beer, wine, spirits and cider industries, visit the One Stop Shop and

Traditionally, a winery must collect tax when making retail sales of wine and wine products, whether they are sold by the bottle or glass. Although the state's Tax Law provided an exemption from taxes for when the products are used "at an event sponsored by a winery, farm winery, wholesaler or importer at its licensed premises," it did not before cover wine tastings. After a direct ask from winery owners at the Summit, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance worked with the New York State Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to clarify the exemption in a Technical Memorandum.

A portion of the hops and malting barley funding will go toward research being conducted on a hops plot at the Geneva Experiment Station at Cornell University. Currently, researchers are evaluating approximately 30 varieties of hops to see which ones work best for New York’s craft brewing industry, as well as experimenting with pest management techniques to see which tools work best to combat certain diseases affecting hops, such as downy mildew. Currently there are approximately 225 acres of hops planted in New York State, of which 150 acres will be harvested this year—amounting to over 100,000 pounds of hops.

Specialists from Cornell will also experiment with malting barley on variety testing, integrated disease management, certified seed production, and weed management, and work to determine what types of barley work best in New York State farm-based beverages. Traditionally a feed crop in New York, this research will experiment to learn what winter and spring varieties work best in the state for the new purpose of this growing industry. Since most available varieties have been bred in western parts of North America and Europe, there is a great need to see what varieties will thrive here to produce a quality crop for malt houses, brewers and distillers.  

Craft breweries have experienced unprecedented growth over the past three years, with the number of microbreweries rising from 40 in 2011 to 100 today—an increase of 150 percent. In addition, as a result of Governor Cuomo’s 2012 Farm Brewery law, 48 new Farm Breweries have opened up across the state. 

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “Thanks in large part to Governor Cuomo’s leadership, these announcements represent significant advances for all of New York’s fast-growing beverage industry.  When we make it easier for more people to try New York wines, and when we invest in research to help the industry grow quickly, we create more jobs.  These key improvements will increase the momentum behind New York’s growers and producers and demonstrate that New York will keep its promises to foster growth.”