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

Federal Excise Taxes

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One of the most unexpected industry-related legislative developments to come out of 2015 was a proposal to reform federal alcohol excise taxes. As one of the more robust industries of growth in the past decade, wine has been seen as an easy way to boost government revenue through a tax increase. So far this has not been the case. Wine and the  other alcohol commodities are a major economic boon for their respective states–a more beneficial tax system would open up the door to even more growth, helping to stimulate tourism and create jobs.


The current tax structure has been in place for quite some time now. Winemakers have the advantage of the small producer tax credit. Wineries that produce 250,000 gallons of year or less–which constitutes a healthy majority of the industry–can take some form of tax credit, with the biggest benefits reserved for wineries producing 100,000 gallons or less annually. The small producer credit is extremely helpful to many wineries. Once a winery crosses the 100,000 gallon threshold, however, you can expect your taxes to increase exponentially.

The Craft Beverage Reform and Tax Modernization Act

The Craft Beverage Reform and Modernization Ave of 2015 (S.1562) was introduced in June 2015 by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Not long after the Senate bill was introduced, a House version called the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tac Reform Act (H.R. 2903) was introduced by Representatives Erik Paulson (R-MN) and Ron Kind (D-WI). Like its Senate counterpart, it has received bipartisan support.

Provisions for Wine

As originally written to not have as large of a tax benefit for wine as they do for beer and spirits. The specific taxation benefits as originally written are as follows:

  • The alcohol content for table wine is changed from 7% to 14% alcohol by volume to 7% to 14.25% alcohol by volume.
  • An expansion of the Small Producers Tax Credit eligibility from 250,000 gallons produced per year to 2,000,000 gallons produced per year.

Wine Industry Reaction

WineAmerica did not immediately support the proposal as originally written. WineAmerica worked with the Wine Institute, the California winery association, to draft more inclusive wine industry tax benefits. After months of negotiation with the Senate Finance Committee, we were able to agree on substantial changes to the bill. The changes were to be implemented if the bill were to move towards passage.

Agreed to Wine Industry Amended Provisions

  • $1.00 credit on the first 30,000 gallons of wine produced
  • $.90 credit on production between 30,001 and 130,000 gallons
  • $.535 credit on production between 130,001 and 750,000 gallons
  • Increases the alcohol threshold for table wine from 7 to 14% alcohol by volume to 7 to 16% alcohol by volume
  • Allows the credit to be applied to sparkling wine (must be applied to either sparkling or still wine)

End of 2015 Activity

The wine, beer and spirits industries united together in support of the tax reform proposal in December 2015 amid a flurry of legislative activity. A large omnibus appropriations bill  needed to pass by midnight on December 31 to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2016. Several tax provisions were set to expire at midnight on December 31 as well. Congress was working around the clock to pass the appropriations bill and extend the tax breaks. As part of the tax extension provisions, the Democratic staff of the Senate Finance Committee worked to include the entire alcohol excise tax bill in the omnibus legislation. The industry supported excise tax provision was ultimately not included in the final bill language, save some provisions for tax filing and bonds, as well as cider. The decision to include or not include the alcohol excise tax provision was one the very last issues considered be the House and the Senate leadership before adjourning for the year.

April 2016

In early April 2016, the Wyden excise tax bill was introduced (with the changes agreed to for wine) as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Unfortunately the amendment was stripped from the final version of the legislation.

Thompson/Reichert Bill

The Wine Excise Tax Modernization Act of 2016 (H.R. 4934) has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Dave Riechert (R-WA) and would specifically focus on federal wine excise taxes. The bill features the same language as the amended wine provisions in the Craft Beverage Reform and Tax Modernization Act with one notable exception. The Thompson/Riechert bill proposes the reduction of tax rates for sparkling of carbonated wine from $3.40 and $3.30 per gallon to the same tax rate as still wine, which is $1.07 per gallon.

What’s Next?

2016 is an election year, and like most election years, successful new policy is expected to be few and far between. With a gridlocked Congress and a presidential race, the odds for new policy become a new law is slim. However, the alcohol industry remains united in its efforts to successfully enact an excise tax reform proposal that comprehensively benefits the all the alcohol commodities.

Last updated: 7/19/2016

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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

Music Licensing

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Wineries use music as a marketing tool and it is a key aspect of agro-tourism. Whether it be music in the tasting room or a concert in the vineyard. music is an essential part of the experience of visiting a winery. A music Performing Rights Organization (PRO) represents songwriters, composers and music publishers, collects royalties from licenses, and pays the royalties back to the artists. There are three major PROS: BMI, ASCAP, SESAC.

Because of the importance of music to wineries, WineAmerica has joined the MIC Coalition, a multi-industry group dedicated to protecting the music economy. The MIC Coalition represents an array of members from across the industry and advocates for the broadest possible distribution of music for the benefit of artists and consumers. Members include the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Digital Media Association (DiMA), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), The National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR), the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the National Retail Federation (NRF) and American Beverage Licensees (ABL). For more information and a list of members, visit

Policy Objectives

Who Owns What: Readily available ownership information is critical to facilitate more efficient licensing and accuracy in payment. Songwriters and artists cannot be paid in users and distributors do not know who owns what or who should be paid. This up-to-date information should be available to the public in an easily accessible format, such as in a copyright ownership registry.

  1. Where the Money Goes: Music users and distributors have paid, and continue to pay, to perform or provide music publicly. Clear information on where that money goes, how it is split and distributed and why, needs to be made available to artists, songwriters and distributors in an easily trackable format.
  2. Billing Practices: Clarity on what music users are required to pay creates healthy business relationships. Licenses should appropriately reflect actual usage, identify the space in which the music is heard by the public, and disclose the frequency that music is played by a venue. An invoice should clearly state what a venue is required to pay by law or contract, and when they are exempt.

Current Bills 

Copyright Office Modernization: Deutch/Chaffetz Draft

WineAmerica supports greater transparency on the part of the Performance Rights Organizations. In order to have a transparent and centralized system, a third party database is necessary. Such a database would be housed in the Library of Congress, which holds copyrights.

There is a strong will in the House Judiciary Committee to bring about copyright modernization. This would include the creation of a central music licensing database. In order for this database to be successful, it must be user-friendly and up-to-date. The current draft includes user fees. WineAmerica is concerned that user fees of any sort would dissuade wineries from using the database.

Position: WineAmerica supports the current draft with the removal of user fee language.

Consent Decree Review: Department of Justice

In July 2016,  the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that, after two years of reviews, they would not alter the existing consent decree regulating Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), as well as other elements of the music industry. The consent decree has regulated BMI and ASCAP since 1941 in response to anti-competitive behavior. Importantly, the DoJ struck down the PROs requests for “fractionalized licensing.”

This is an important decision for wineries who purchase “blanket licenses” from PROs in order to play music at their venue. A blanket license allows a venue to play a PROs entire repertory. Had the DoJ agreed to fractionalized licensing, a winery would have had to pay every PRO that represents a songwriter for a song with multiple writers: for example, if a song has four writers, each with a different PRO, then all four PRO could claim royalties for that single song.

WineAmerica is aware of PROs claims that a winery is required to pay each one. While, according to copyright law, a venue is required to pay to use copyrighted material, WineAmerica is working to bring transparency and market competition to the licensing process. We believe that small business should have the tools to make sound business decisions based on their unique needs. In our lobbying efforts, we argued that fractionalize licensing would have eliminated buyer’s choice in the marketplace, encourage anti-competitive behavior, and ultimately raise the cost of performing music.

Excerpt from WineAmerica’s comments to the DoJ on the consent decree, 11/20/2015:

Requiring the purchase of a license for joint ownership would further the anti-competitive behavior or BMI and ASCAP. It would eliminate buyer’s choice in the marketplace. By requiring multiple licenses for a single musical work, it would raise the cost of performing music. Venues are already canceling live music due to costly licenses. Requiring the purchase of multiple licenses would dramatically raise the number of wineries and vineyards no longer offering live music, hurting business, the music industry, and the consumer.

The consent decree does not regulate Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) or Global Music Rights (GMR).

WineAmerica supports the DOJ decision.


WineAmerica recognizes that our members want relief from the PROs now and that changing laws take time. That is why we have reached out directly to ASCAP and BMI to discuss possible business to business solutions. We would like to see the following from the PROs:

  1. Code of Conduct: We would like each PRO to public a public code of conduct for their employees and agents that we could distribute to our members, so that when a PRO comes to call, they know what to expect. The code of conduct should address professional behavior and language, modes of contact, proper disclosures, and a “non-legal” or administrative means to dispute charges
  2. License Review: We would like the PROs to review their current licenses to accurately reflect size and usage at wineries.

Last updated: 7/19/2015

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


Trade Policy

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Trans Pacific Partnership and its Impact on the American Wine Industry

WineAmerica supports the completion of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement announced by the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. The agreement is expected to eliminate high tariffs places on American wines aborad, and establish more enforceable trade rules for wine. A brief summary of what the TPP means for wineries is listed below:

  • Japan: Japan will eliminate all tariffs on wine and related products in 11 years or less. For the important category of bottled wine, tariffs will be eliminated over periods of up to eight years, with front-loaded tariff reductions in several cases. Japan’s tariff on bulk wine will be eliminated immediately.
  • Malaysia: Malaysia’s duties will eliminated in 15 years, marking the first time in any trade agreement that Malaysia has agreed to eliminate tariffs on all alcoholic beverages.
  • Vietnam: Vietnam will eliminate tariffs on all wine, currently at 47%, in 11 years.

Congress must approve the final agreement before the President can sign in, but may not offer amendments. We expect the vote to occur in the next Congress.

Semi-generic names

WineAmerica supports the 2006 EU-US trade agreement that allows grandfathered wineries to continue to use semi-generic names.

Updated: 7/22/2016

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

Estate Taxes

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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 improved, the exemption would have reverted to $1 million with a top tax of 55%. The law, which is permanent (unless amended again) raised the limit to $5 million indexed, meaning that 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 be up to $10.6 million For larger estates, the tax rate is now 40%.

WineAmerica supports the 2012 law.

Updated: July 22, 2016

Questions? Contact Michael Kaiser at


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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.