LITTLE ROCK — Two bills to ease restrictions on wine sales advanced Wednesday in the Arkansas Legislature.


The Senate voted 18-11 to approve Senate Bill 284 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, that would allow grocery stores to apply for permits to sell wine from any winery.


Also, the House Rules Committee endorsed a bill to make it easier for Arkansas wineries to ship wine to customers.


Current state law allows grocery stores to sell wines only from “small-farm wineries,” or wineries that produce less than 250,000 gallons a year. Hester told senators his bill would allow grocery stores to better serve their customers.


Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, asked Hester about the ability of small grocery and liquor stores to compete with big box stores that might move into their areas and sell wine.


Hester said small stores can compete with big box stores if they are good at what they do.


“Walmart stores and their associates are not going to be able to tell you about the experience of a particular wine versus another wine,” he said.


The bill goes to the House.


In a voice vote with no audible dissent, the House Rules Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1463 by Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark. The bill would allow small-farm wineries to ship wine directly to customers.


Under current law, a small-farm winery in Arkansas can only ship wine to a customer who has made an in-person visit to the winery to place the order. Capp’s bill would remove that restriction.


Current law also allows a winery to ship no more than one case per customer in one three-month period. Capp’s bill would allow a winery to ship a case per customer every month.


The bill goes to the House.