Current Issues & Policy

The issues that face the American winery.

At any moment there are dozens of bills in state and federal legislators that would affect your winery. While they vary in region and in scope, many fall under specific policy categories.

Read our policy positions and learn more about the major issues facing the American wine industry. These positions outline the history behind the issues, the significance of the possible changes and the stance WineAmerica has taken on the subject.

Policy Positions

"Fast Track"

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Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) a.k.a. “Fast Track”

Congress and the White House are currently discussing several international trade deals. Trade is an important part of the American economy and important to the American wine industry.

It is not the trade bill, but rather authority for a quick review by Congress once a trade deal is negotiated. It limits Congress to an up and down vote on the final document. It prevents them from amending or changing the agreement. However, it does contain some parameters on what can be negotiated.

If Congress approves the TPA, then the Administration can negotiate with a better assurance that if a positive agreement is reached, Congress will approved the final agreement. The House Ways and Means voted to send the TPA bill to the full house on April 23rd. The vote was 25-13, with two Democrats joining with the 23 Republicans in the vote.

TPA is difficult politically. Pro-business interests want a trade agreement that curbs trade restrictions by other countries and promotes trade. Pro-labor and environmental interests would like no new trade agreements unless they require higher wage rates and better environmental protections. We understand many members of congress oppose TPA unless labor and environmental provisions are strengthened. In contrast, the White House strongly supports the TPA.

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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

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The use of Genetically Modified Organisms in agricultural production continues to rise.  Advances in GMO research and resulting outcomes have increased yields, reduced the need for pesticide applications, and increased food safety.  Some segments of U.S. agriculture have heavily embraced GMO production and in other segments the utilization has not been as great.  For example, most of the corn production in the U.S. is from GMO varieties and most of the soybean production in the U.S. is from GMO varieties.  FDA has approved both GMO apple varieties and potato varieties.  There are presently no GMO varieties of winegrapes in production, though GMO products like yeast are sometimes used in the winemaking process.

Concerns have arisen in the wine industry about local and state laws and regulations related to either bans on GMO production or requirements to label foods and drinks containing GMO products.  These local requirements and ballot initiatives are not consistent across state lines and they present major concerns for winegrape growers and winemakers whose product is made into wine that is shipped to all 50 states and most countries.

The industry supports a solution that sets national policy at the Federal level on what is defined as a GMO, and what labels and claims can be required of goods containing GMO products.  The House Agriculture Committee has taken a strong interest in this issue as has the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  The House Agriculture Committee has held hearings and is contemplating legislative solutions to the above concerns.  Separately, Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which would establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the FDA to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients.  The bill defined bioengineered organisms as a plant or a seed, fruit, or any part of a plant containing genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques. In addition to setting national labeling standards regarding the presence or absence of bioengineered organisms, the bill would require the FDA to define the term “natural” as it is used in food labeling.  Finally the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 has a new provision that would create a certification process at the Agriculture Department for food companies that want to label products as GMO free.  Nine Republicans and eight Democrats were original co-sponsors of the bill, with the majority sitting on either the Agriculture or Energy & Commerce Committee.  If passed, this legislation would have a significant national impact due to its preemptive effect on state labeling laws.

The wine industry supports Federal legislation providing a voluntary GMO labeling framework., such as provided for in H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. The technology behind GMO in agriculture is proven safe for the environment and consumers, and is the key to increasing food production necessary to feed a rapidly growing global population.  Acceptance by consumers depends on a continued effort to better inform the public about the environmental and health benefits this technology provides.  The Winegrape Growers of America and WineAmerica urge the Congress to resolve this issue and provide clarity for winegrape growers and wineries in all 50 states.


Last updated: 4/16/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at

Clean Water Act

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In early 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposed a rule defining and clarifying the meaning of ‘Waters of the United States’ under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The rule dramatically expands the regulatory jurisdiction under the CWA, and lacks sound scientific justification.  The Winegrape Growers of America and WineAmerica urge the proposed rule to be withdrawn.  EPA points to scientific conclusions in their draft report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence,” as justification for the proposed rule. That report is currently under review by the Science Advisory Board. The scientific conclusions of this report should have been thoroughly evaluated and vetted prior to publication of the proposed rule: science should always precede the development of policy.

The CWA grants EPA and the Corps regulatory authority to protect the quality of “the waters of the United States” but leaves up to the agencies to define what constitutes “the waters of the United States.” A decade in the making, the agencies developed the proposed rule to address regulatory uncertainty that arose from a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. In those cases, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos v. United States, the Supreme Court established limits on what the EPA and the Corps can define as “waters of the United States.”

The proposed rule, which will define the scope of waters protected under the CWA, is meant to clarify the agencies’ regulatory jurisdiction for streams and wetlands under the Act. The proposed rule will potentially expand EPA and Corps jurisdiction to reach a far greater number of lands, drainage systems and development projects than are currently regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Rather than providing clarity and making identification of covered waters more efficient, the proposed rule lacks specificity. For example, the rule relies heavily on undefined or ambiguous concepts such as “riparian areas,” “landscape unit,” “floodplain,” “ordinary high water mark,” as determined by the agencies’ “best professional judgment” and “aggregation.”

The proposed regulations expand the scope of the CWA to unprecedented lengths.  Among other things, the proposed rule expands the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Act by broadening the definition of navigable-in-fact waters, tributaries, adjacent wetlands, adjacent waters, significant nexus, surface connection, etc., and by narrowing the farm exemption and adding all interstate waters and even a catch-all for “other waters.”

In the end, the only waters clearly not covered are the few that are exempted or expressly excluded from the Act, including artificial reflective pools, ornamental waters, ground water, and gullies, rills and non-wetland swales.  An expansion of CWA jurisdiction would make an increased number of farming projects and activities subject to the Act’s permitting requirements. Winegrape Growers of America and WineAmerica support legislation that directs EPA not to implement the rule they’ve proposed and:

  1. Propose a new rule that is consistent with Congressional Intent
  2. In the new proposed rule, ensure that EPA:
  3. Follow the consultation process under the Federalism Executive order
  4. Adhere to the cost association rules under the Federal Regulatory Flexibility Act; and
  5. Adhere to the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act in order to make sure that EPA actually knows the cost and benefits and unfunded mandates.


Last updated: 4/16/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at


FDA Menu Labeling Requirements for Restaurants

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released their final rule for menu labeling requirements for restaurants. The rule applies to chain of twenty or more, with the same ownership, and operating under the same name. The FDA was required to establish the rule under the nutrition labeling requirement contained within the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Alcohol, which originally was proposed to be exempted by the FDA, is now included in the labeling requirement for restaurants.

A restaurant that meets the above parameters will have to list the calorie and nutrition information for all beer, wine and spirits listed on a menu. Mixed drinks not listed on a menu are exempted from the requirements, as are liquor bottles on display behind a bar. Restaurants have significant flexibility in choosing a basis for nutrient contents disclosures. This can include the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. The USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference includes the categories, “alcoholic beverage, wine, table, red,” “alcoholic beverage, wine, table, white,” among several other general categories for alcoholic beverages. The USDA will allow covered establishments to use these entries as the bases for their nutrient content disclosures for alcoholic beverages that are standard menu items.

The FDA will not be encroaching on the TTB’s regulation of the alcohol industry, and all of the nutrition labeling requirements will comply with TTB requirements. Alcohol producers will not be required to disclose the nutritional content of their products or conduct laboratory analyses of their products. The burden for disclosure is on the covered establishments (restaurants) and they will be allowed to use the accepted USDA measurements for caloric and other nutritional content.

Covered establishments have until December 1, 2015 to comply.

Of concern to the wine industry is making sure the “covered establishment” know and continue to use the established databases. The burden is not on the alcohol producer, but the restaurant.


Last updated: 4/16/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at

TTB Funding

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On February 2, President Obama unveiled his budget blueprint for fiscal year 2016.  The President’s budget blueprint includes $101 million in funding for TTB. The Republicans are working on their own budget blueprints. Congress expects to pass budget resolutions by mid-April.  If successful, Congress and the Administration will begin the process of appropriations and attempt to find areas of compromise on budget priorities.

WineAmerica supports a fully funded TTB to effectively regulate the wine industry.

Alcohol Industry Coalition Letter

On March 23rd, the beverage alcohol industry sent a joint industry letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees requesting a funding increase for the TTB for FY2016. The letter was signed by twelve leading associations representing wine, beer, and spirits producers and wholesalers.

The letter asks that the Administration’s request in last month’s budget be viewed as a minimum starting point for TTB funding and that TTB’s direct appropriation be increased above the Administration’s request by $5 million in a direct appropriation line item for enforcement of the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act.

The letters were signed by:


American Beverage Licensees

American Distilling Institute

Brewers Association

Beer Institute

Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

National Association of Beverage Importers

National Beer Wholesalers Association

The Presidents’ Forum of the Distilled Spirits Industry

Wine Institute

Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America

Washington Wine Institute

Last updated: 4/16/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at


Country of Origin Labeling

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Canada and Mexico is threatening retaliatory tariffs against American wine imported into Canada and Mexico. These tariffs are in retaliation over the way imported meat products are labeled in the United States. Canada is the largest foreign market for American wine.  Last year U.S wine exports to Canada reached $487 million, a 7% increase from 2013. Retail sales for American wine in Canada now eclipse $1 billion. In 2013 the U.S. was the second largest exporter of wine to Canada, with a 16% market share among wine imports sold in Canada.

The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require that certain food be labeled as to  the source country.  Under current law, retailers must inform consumers of the country of origin of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, shellfish, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, ginseng, and ground and muscle cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and goat.

In July 2013, the American Meat Institute, led a group of U.S. meat industry groups in filing a lawsuit to block implementation of the  final COOL rule, arguing that the rule is burdensome for industry and provides little or no benefit to consumers.  The court denied the meat industry groups request, so they appealed.  In March 2014, the appellate court affirmed the decision allowing Country of Origin Labeling implementation to continue.

Canada and Mexico challenged the COOL rule, filing a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO).  The WTO found the labeling system treated imported livestock less favorably than like U.S. livestock. In response to the WTO ruling, USDA issued final COOL regulations in 2013 which require labels to show where each production step (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurs and prohibits commingling of muscle cut meat from different origins.  Opponents of the new rule argues it is more onerous than the first.  Canada and Mexico went back to the WTO, asking for another review and permission to impose the tariffs.  Both nations have made it clear that nothing short of full repeal will satisfy their governments. WineAmerica supports full repeal of the mandatory COOL law to avoid any costly tariffs placed on American wine exported to Canada. Below is a timeline on the status of the issue since the National Wine and Grape Policy Conference:

  • May 18:  The WTO Settlement body issued their final ruling on COOL. The WTO ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico, setting the stage for them to implement tariffs. Canada and Mexico were given sixty days to submit their monetary request for damages.
  • May 19:  Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, introduced legislation (H.R. 2393) to repeal the mandatory COOL law. The bipartisan bill had sixty original co-sponsors.
  • May 20: The House Agriculture held a hearing on H.R. 2393. The bill is passed out of committee and referred to the full House of Representatives.
  • June 10: The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2393 by a vote of 300-131, the first step in repealing the mandatory COOL law.
  • June 18: Canada and Mexico submitted their monetary proposals for retaliation to the WTO, starting a sixty day review process. The total numbers proposed for annual retaliation are more than $3 billion.
  • June 25: The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on COOL. WineAmerica Board Member and New York Wine and Grape Foundation President, Jim Trezise, was a witness and  spoke on the detrimental effects any tariffs would have on the American wine industry. Other panelists included representatives from the North American Meat Institute, the American Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association, Kansas Livestock Association, Archer Daniels Midland Company Corn Processing Business Unit.
  • July 23: Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced the Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling and Enforcement Act of 2015. The Canadian and Mexican governments publicly state that the bill will not stop the retaliatory tariffs as it still contains the labeling standards the WTO ruled against.
  • July 23: Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced a full repeal of COOL as an amendment to the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act. The bill failed to pass the Senate.
  • August 17: The WTO review process on the Canadian and Mexican retaliation proposals ends. The WTO Dispute Settlement Body set a public hearing date for September 17 and 18 to discuss the proposals. Canada has requested an annual retaliation number of $2.32 billion annually. Mexico has requested $713 million
  • September 18: The WTO held a public hearing on the proposed tariffs. Canada and Mexico defended their proposed retaliation numbers of $2.32 billion and $713 million, respectively. These numbers are based on their estimates on annual losses in livestock trade. The US countered that the numbers are extremely inflated and requests numbers of $43 million for Canada and $47 million for Mexico, respectively. A panel of three experts will consider the numbers and will issue a final ruling on the total amount Canada and Mexico can use for retaliation on November 27.

WineAmerica will continue to work with the COOL Reform Coalition to encourage the Senate to repeal the mandatory COOL law before November 27. Full repeal is the only course of action that will satisfy the Canadian and Mexican governments.

Updated: 10/22/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at

Immigration Reform and Agricultural Labor Supply

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America’s wine industry needs affordable and reliable agricultural labor to achieve the quality expectations of winemakers and consumers.

Many growing operations depend on the availability of foreign migrant workers, but the current visa program for agricultural workers does not adequately respond to the shortage in the labor supply.  Under the current H-2A guest worker program, the wine industry does not have the stable workforce necessary to make these key business decisions: only 2% of wine grape growers and winery operators are able to use that program.

It is generally accepted that the agricultural sector is unique:

  • Work is rurally based
  • Work is seasonally active
  • Employees are migratory
  • Products are perishable

More than 2 million workers contribute time as farm workers.  Nearly 70% are undocumented. No other workforce comes close to a comparable number of undocumented workers.  Still, the sector’s labor demand is not met.

Effective immigration reform must address our current workforce and create a new guest worker program to meet future needs. Agriculture supports millions of jobs both on and off the farm.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the Legal Workforce Act, H.R. 1147, on March 3 by a vote of 20-13. This bill, authored by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), would require U.S. employers to check the work eligibility of all new hires through the E-Verify system.  Although agricultural employers agree with the need to strengthen worker documentation, taking these steps before addressing the current workforce gap and the need for a workable guest worker program is unacceptable.  An enforcement-only approach ignores the rest of our immigration problems and threatens to devastate the farm economy.  Growers are careful to follow the federal government’s requirements for checking employment documents, and will continue to do so. But e-Verify by itself puts the onus on farmers and ranchers who are already hard pressed to find skilled workers.

WineAmerica urges House leadership not to bring H.R.1147 to the House floor for consideration unless and until it is paired with acceptable reform legislation that provides earned legal status for experienced workers in our industry, and creates a modernized visa program to meet future needs.

WineAmerica urges all Members of Congress to commit to securing the future of U.S. agriculture by ensuring a stable workforce and we oppose efforts to implement mandatory e-Verify before Congress addresses comprehensive immigration reform.

Update: 4/16/2015

Questions? Contact Michael Kasier at

Farm Bill

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As an agriculturally-based industry, the passage and implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill is essential to the dynamic growth and development of the grape and wine industries.


Below are some highlights of the recent Farm Bill:

  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative – To address critical needs by developing and disseminating science-based tools focus on specific crops and their regions. Research is to be conducted on important priorities such as plant breeding, pests and diseases, mechanization, genetics, food safety and pollination.
  • Plant Pest and Disease Program – Includes mandatory funding of $62.5 million in FY 2014-2017 and $75 million in FY2018. Also includes a minimum of $5 million dedicated to the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN).  The NCPN requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a network of clean plant centers in the US for diagnostic and pathogen elimination services to promote availability through nurseries of safe, virus-free plant materials to vineyards, orchards and other growers.
  • Specialty Crop Block Grants – The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is designed to enhance the markets for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture.  Applicants apply to their state departments of agriculture. The Secretary of Agriculture makes grants to state departments of agriculture allowing investment in programs and projects that support production-related research, commodity promotion, product quality enhancement, consumer health, food safety and other programs that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crop producers. It also includes a multi-state program established and administered by USDA. The programs will focus on food safety, plant pest and disease, research, and crop-specific projects addressing common issues.
  • Market Access Program (MAP) – Requires the Commodity Credit Corporation to carry out a program to encourage the development, maintenance, and expansion of commercial export markets through cost-share assistance to eligible trade organizations that implement a foreign market development program.
  • Value Added Producer Grants – Helps agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of bio-based value-added products. Generating new products, creating and expanding marketing opportunities, and increasing producer income are the end goals of this program. Priority may be given to beginning farmers or ranchers, a socially-disadvantaged farmer or rancher, a small or medium-sized farm or ranch structured as a family farm, a farmer or rancher cooperative, or are proposing a mid-tier value chain, as defined in the Program Regulation. Grants are awarded on a competitive basis.
  • Disaster Assistance – Tree Assistance Program (TAP) provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.


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There are a number of federal tax issues that could significantly impact the American wine industry including excise taxes, the small producer tax credit and estate taxes.

Estate Taxes

When the American Taxpayer Relief Act was signed into law in January of 2013, much of the pressure was eased for repeal of the estate tax. Had the law not been improved, the exemption would have reverted to $1 million with a top tax of 55%. The new law, which is permanent (unless amended again by Congress) raised the limit to $5 million indexed to 2012, meaning that for 2014, a person may leave or give away up to $5.34 million without owing any estate tax. In addition, spouses can combine their estate tax exemptions, thus the exemption could be combined by a couple to $10.6 for 2014. For larger estates, the tax rate is now 40%.

A summary of the law is available at:

Because of the impact on agriculture and other businesses, there continues to be interest in complete repeal of the estate tax.

Small Producers Tax Credit

The small producer tax credit was enacted in 1991. It allows wineries producing up to 250,000 gallons of wine per year a credit up to $.90 per gallon on part of their annual taxable removals, other than sparkling wine. Below are some highlights of the credit:

  • If production is 150,000 gallons or less, the credit is $.90 on the first 100,000 gallons (other than sparkling) taxably removed each year.
  • If production is more than 150,000 and not more than 250,000, the credit is reduced by 1% for every 1,000 gallons produced in excess of 150,000 (i.e., the more wine made, the smaller the credit). Contact the National Revenue Center for assistance in determining the correct rate of credit.
  • Wineries are not entitled to take credit during the year when there is no production.



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Currently wineries are experiencing significant delays in getting labels and formulas approved by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).


TTB is the primary federal regulatory agency for wineries across the country and is responsible for enforcing the Federal Alcohol Administration Act.

As part of their regulatory role, the TTB reviews and approves over 100,000 labels and thousands of formulas submitted by wineries each year. Additionally, the TTB issues permits and advises other agencies on international trade issues,and collects excise taxes on all alcoholic beverages.

While the TTB is now the third biggest revenue generator in the entire federal government (taking in an estimated $23 billion in revenue), it has seen a 10% reduction in workforce since 2007. This has had a direct impact on the commodities that the TTB is required by law to regulate.