For the first time in three years, WineAmerica representatives recently met with Congressional Representatives from around the country to discuss the wine industry’s legislative priorities. Last held in 2019, WineAmerica’s National Policy Conference was suspended due to COVID-19, but returned May 17-18, 2022, in altered form.
Though some meetings still took place virtually, WineAmerica members were allowed entry to the Capitol complex for in-person meetings with state representatives and relevant committee members. Sadly, the once popular “Taste the Wines of America” reception at the end of the first day was never even considered this year; hopefully, it will reappear in 2023.
In addition to the WineAmerica staff of Jim Trezise, Michael Kaiser and Tara Good, board and State and Regional Associations Advisory Council (SRAAC) attendees included Chris Brundett (William Chris Vineyards, Tex.), Marty Clubb (L’Ecole No. 41, Wash.), Marie-Chantal Dalese (Chateau Chantal, Mich.), Moya Shatz Dolsby (Idaho Wine Commission), Debra Dommen (Treasury Wine Estates, Calif.), Steve Gross (Wine Institute, Calif.), Janie Brooks Heuck (Brooks Wine, Ore.), Dana Huber (Huber Orchard & Vineyard, Ind.), John Martini (Anthony Road Winery, N.Y.), Josh McDonald (Washington Wine Institute), Scott Osborn (Fox Run Vineyards, N.Y.), Ryan Pennington (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Wash.), and Donnie Winchell (Ohio Wine Producers Association).
It wasn’t all policy and politics. Business mixed with the pleasure of simply being in the same room after all this time, and was capped off by a superb dinner at St. Anselm restaurant. It once again reinforced that “the product is a pleasure, but the people are the treasure.”
Getting to work
John Martini, co-owner of Anthony Road Winery in New York’s Finger Lakes AVA and a member of numerous organizations, including WineAmerica, often advises, “Show up, stand up, speak up.” That’s what this conference is all about: people coming together to learn about issues pertinent to their situations and then to taking that knowledge to their legislators. This year, those issues included:
- USPS Shipping Equity Act: Would let the U.S. Postal Service ship wine, beer and spirits to consumers, just as FedEx and UPS have done for years;
- Agritourism Act: Would establish a new priority and create resources to promote tourism in agricultural regions and industries;
- Cannabis Legalization: Would ensure that any potential legalization avoids negative effects on wine production, marketing and tourism;
- Music Licensing: Would require transparency, fairness and professionalism among Performance Rights Organizations relative to live music performances at winery events;
- Restaurant Revitalization Fund: Would increase funding to help restaurants, winery tasting rooms and other establishments harmed by the Covid-caused downturn;
- Ready to Drink Cocktails and Taxes: Would prevent unfair tax treatment that favors spirits-based beverages; and
- Farm Bill: Would provide input for the 2023 version of this massive measure, which covers the next five years in terms of agricultural programs and priorities.
Covering all these issues required group meetings with the Majority (Democrat) and Minority (Republican) committee representatives from House Ways and Means, House Oversight, Senate Finance, and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
WineAmerica delegates also met with the two co-chairs of the Congressional Wine Caucus, Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA). Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) gave a presentation on the new Agritourism Act, which she is leading as the originating sponsor.
New leaders, new policy
Lobbying wasn’t the only activity, as both the WineAmerica Board of Directors and the State and Regional Advisory Council conducted internal business meetings. This included a “peaceful transition of power” from outgoing Board Chair Janie Brooks Heuck to Debra Dommen, who had previously served as vice chair. Dommen’s past position is now occupied by former Secretary/Treasurer Scott Osborn, who was himself succeeded by Dana Huber. Marty Clubb remains as assistant treasurer. In addition, Ryan Pennington was elected chair of the Government Affairs Committee.
In terms of new policy initiatives, WineAmerica has officially adopted the same position as Wine Institute on taxation related to RTD (ready-to-drink) cocktails, for which the spirits sector is seeking excise tax reductions. The WI/WA position is that:
- For any tax reduction for ready-to-drink cocktails, the alcohol content must be 5% or lower;
- The tax rate for new, 5% or lower alcohol-by-volume distilled spirits-based RTDs must be significantly higher than wine;
- Wine must also get a tax reduction; and
- In accordance with these three guiding principles, the wine industry will not oppose efforts to expand the retail distribution options for distilled spirits-based RTDs.
Other upcoming WA actions
WineAmerica will also join FIVS, which is, essentially, the international version of WineAmerica. FIVS represents close to 50 private sector wine trade associations and wine producers from 24 countries, which, all-told, represent 75 percent of worldwide wine commerce. This new partnership will let FIVS enhance its efforts in the United States while also ensuring that WineAmerica is fully in the loop on major international matters affecting the industry.
Building on its 2017 initiative, WineAmerica is also sponsoring an updated National Economic Impact Study, which details the many ways in which the wine industry benefits both national and state economies. In 2017, the national total economic benefit was $220 billion. After the past few years, it will be interesting to have a comparison. The study results are an incredibly powerful tool for lobbying.
Whether it was the joy of being together or the atmosphere of optimism in spite of challenges ahead — or both — the strides taken at these meetings will carry us closer to meaningful beneficial outcomes. Diversity is our strength, unity is our power.
Jim Trezise is president of WineAmerica (WA), the only national wine industry association in the United States. WA is a 500-member strong organization that encourages the growth and development of American wineries and winegrowing through the advancement and advocacy of sound public policy. Membership is encouraged to support the important work of WA, which benefits all U.S. wineries. Go to https://wineamerica.org/ for more information.