Local distillery working to push bill through General Assembly

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UPDATE: Friday, Feb. 09, 2018:

The Virginia Senate passed SB803 on Friday 23 to 16.

The bill still has to be passed over to the House where there is an identical bill - HB536 - in the works.

If it passes through both chambers, the new law would take effect July 1.
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The rolling hills of Nelson County are ripe with breweries, cideries, wineries and distilleries.

But, unlike the others, distilleries face more restrictions. "We need to be able to keep our bottle sales," said Christine Riggleman, the CEO and Master Distiller at Silverback Distilleries in Afton.

Right now, distilleries are required to give 54 percent of their gross bottle sales to Virginia ABC.

Factor in the Federal excise tax and Virginia's sales tax, Riggleman says they make a little over $1 off a $30 bottle of alcohol. "We can't afford the grains, we can't afford the power bill, we can't afford to pay employees," she said.

The family owned and operated distillery is equipped to produce up to 800,000 bottles a year that could sustain a nearly 200-acre farm; but, Riggleman says they can't afford to operate at full capacity. "We use corn, we use barley, we use rye, we use honey and we can get those all locally."

But, after a 16 to 0 vote by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, Riggleman says she's cautiously optimistic. "I just wanted to shout with joy … I couldn't cry because it's not over yet."

Senate Bill 803 would allow distilleries to keep their retail profit from bottles sold in their stores.

The bill still has to be voted on by the full state senate and passed over to the House where there is an identical bill - HB536 - in the works.

If it passes through both chambers, the new law would take effect July 1.

The Riggleman family is working to expand their distillery into Pennsylvania. But, they say if the bill doesn't pass, they'll be forced to move their entire business up there. "My distillery property and my property were being shown to buyers because that's our backup plan. If these bills don't pass then we have to leave and this is our home state," explained Riggleman. "I don't want to leave."