Current Issues & Policies
At any moment there are dozens of bills in state and federal legislatures that could 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 federal 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.
To provide you with context, there are separate documents on WineAmerica’s Government Affairs Process, Government Affairs Achievements, and 2022 Legislative Agenda, followed by detail on the major issues.
Government Affairs Process
Vineyardists grow grapes. Vintners make wine. WineAmerica produces policy.
Public policy is WineAmerica’s “product”. Everything we do is aimed at improving the business climate for American wineries, just as growers seek to produce the best grapes and winemakers the finest wines. As in those cases, government affairs involves a process that is complex, dynamic and essential to understand in order to achieve success.
This document describes the government affairs process, some of the many past successes that WineAmerica has achieved for the wine industry, and some of the issues now on the table.
Policy Development: WineAmerica develops its legislative agenda and policy positions through staff working with a Government Affairs Committee consisting of board member wineries and some non-board member wineries from around the country. The focus is on prioritizing issues based on their impact on the American wine industry nationwide.
Policy Execution: Michael Kaiser leads the government affairs efforts, with support as needed from Tara Good and Jim Trezise. Public policy advocacy requires intense communication with many different constituencies—WineAmerica members and leadership, beverage alcohol coalition partners, Administration officials, Capitol Hill staff, and others. The legislative process is very dynamic, with frequent changes in situations, so regular and reliable communication is vital. WineAmerica staff and Government Affairs Committee members hold weekly updates on conference calls, with a longer monthly call involving additional committee members, and to provide more details.
Grassroots Support: WineAmerica has a unique asset: the State and Regional Associations Advisory Council (SRAAC) comprising over 40 state and regional winery trade associations from around the country. When the time comes to generate constituent support for legislation, WineAmerica asks its SRAAC members to contact their Senators and Representatives. Winery members are also directly asked to contact their legislators at critical times.
Beverage Alcohol Coalition: WineAmerica works closely with the Wine Institute (a California association with national reach) and several trade associations representing the beer, cider, mead, and spirits sectors. This coalition was crucial in securing passage of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA), which lowered excise taxes on all alcohol beverages. This group also organized several “Day of Action” virtual lobbying initiatives which in one day resulted in over 13,000 businesses making 37,000 contacts via text, email or phone. In addition to WineAmerica and the Wine Institute, beverage alcohol coalition partners include the American Cider Association, American Craft Spirits Association, American Mead Makers Association, Beer Institute, Brewers Association and the Distilled Spirits Council. WineAmerica is also a member of different coalitions revolving around agricultural policy, music licensing, tariffs and trade, and other issue areas. Coalitions are vital in advancing legislation.
Key Policy Connections
WineAmerica’s national scope and broad-based leadership provides key connections with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. A few examples just from our Board of Directors:
- Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY)—Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards, NY WineAmerica Vice Chair
- Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR)—Michelle Kaufmann, Stoller Wine Estates
- Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA)—Marty Clubb, L’Ecole No. 41, Walla Walla
- Senator Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)—Maria Chantal-Dalese, Chateau Chantal, MI
- Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), Chair, Congressional Wine Caucus—Debra Dommen, Treasury Wine Estates, CA, WineAmerica Chair
- Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Co-chair, Congressional Wine Caucus—Ryan Pennington, Chateau Ste. Michelle, WA, WineAmerica Government Affairs Chair
WineAmerica also has an unparalleled grassroots network with our State and Regional Association Advisory Council. The 40+ state and regional winery trade associations allow us to have personal connections in the majority of Senate and House offices.
Government Affairs Committee:
Ryan Pennington, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, CA, OR, WA (Chair)
Steve Bate, New York Wine Policy Institute
Chris Brundrett, William Chris Vineyards, TX
Marie Chantal-Delese, Chateau Chantal Winery, MI
Marty Clubb, L’Ecole No. 41, WA
George Christie, Saini Vineyards, CA
Moya Shatz Dolsby, Idaho Wine Commission
Debra Dommen, Treasury Wine Estates, CA
Dave Fussel, Duplin Winery, FL, NC, SX
Dana Huber, Huber’s Orchard & Winery, IN
Joe Juniper, Vermillion Valley Vineyards, OH
Michelle Kaufmann, Stoller Wine Group, OR
Ed Matovcik, Constellation Brands, CA
Mario Mazza, Mazza Vineyards, PA
Josh McDonald, Washington Wine Institute
Max McFarland, Mac’s Creek Vineyards and Winery, NE
Roxanne Myers, Lost Oak Winery, TX
Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards, NY
Erica Paolicelli, Three Brothers Winery, NY
Garrett Portra, Carlson Vineyards, CO
Devin Rhinerson, Napa Valley Vintners, CA
Max Rohn, Wolffer Estate, NY
Government Affairs Achievements
Major Money Saving Measures
Here is a small sampling of some key measures which WineAmerica has achieved:
- Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (2017), reducing federal excise taxes for wineries of all sizes
- Repeal of Bond Requirements for small producers
- Repeal of the annual Special Occupational Tax ($500-$1000 per year) which was created to pay for the Civil War
- Creation of the Small Producer Tax Credit (1991) which protected small wineries from an excise tax increase from 17 cents to $1.07 per gallon by offering a 90 cent per gallon credit
WineAmerica’s advocacy over the years has saved American wineries millions of dollars. For example, since 1991 the Small Producer Tax Credit has saved small wineries 90 cents per gallon, with another 10 cents now added under the 2017 Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA), bringing the total to $1.00 per gallon in savings since small wineries are now paying only 7 cents instead of $1.07.
The crowning achievement of WineAmerica’s recent government affairs work was the permanence of the CBMTRA. First enacted at the end of 2017 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, reduced excise tax rates went into effect on January 1, 2018 but were scheduled to expire on December 31, 2019. A one-year extension made December 31, 2020 the new deadline while WineAmerica worked with beverage coalition partners to have permanence of the CBMTRA included in the year-end Covid relief bill.
The CBMTRA provides tax credits for wineries of all sizes according to the following formula:
—$1.00 per gallon for the first 30,000 gallons produced
—$0.90 per gallon for gallons 30,001 to 130,000
—$0.53 per gallon for gallons 130,001 to 650,000
The tax benefits are particularly large for wines between 14% and 16% alcohol by volume, as for tax purposes they are now considered table wines. In addition, the tax credits may also be applied to sparkling wines. Add to those annual savings the ones from the repeal of bond requirements and repeal of the Special Occupational Tax, and the result is that a 10,000-gallon winery is now saving $11,000 each year.
Savor the Savings: By contrast, the annual WineAmerica dues for wineries producing 10,000 or fewer gallons is only $500—or 1/22nd of the annual combined savings. This modest investment lets WineAmerica staff keep working for you.
2023 Legislative Outlook
2023 Legislative Outlook
The 2022 Midterm elections have come and gone. Now that the dust has settled we can take a look at what happened and what it might mean for the American wine industry. While many experts called for a “Red Wave”, that is a huge Republican victory, it never really materialized. The Republicans did take control of the House with a slim majority, but the Democrats kept the Senate, and the Georgia runoff election in December secured them a 51-49 majority.
So what do the election results mean for 2023? A new House majority means new Republican leadership and a new speaker. At this writing it seems likely that current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will become the next Speaker of the House. At the same time, current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stepped down from the Democratic leadership. She will serve out her next term, but will no longer lead the leadership team, with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) selected as the new Speaker. A new House Republican majority also means that the leadership of each committee now turns over. WineAmerica continues to have allies in House Agriculture, Appropriations, and Ways and Means Committees. One of our strengths is our non-partisanship and that will be evident in our ability to work well with the new majority. At press time we do not know the final makeup of each committee.
The Senate leadership will remain the same in the new Congress. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) will remain Senate Majority Leader, and since he has been a great ally to the American wine industry over the years, so we are quite happy that he will remain in his position. Additionally, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) remains Senate Finance Chairman. Senator Wyden famously was the original sponsor of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. Additionally, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will remain Senate Agriculture chair. One very positive development is that Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) might (still unclear at the time of this writing) become the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair. Having a Senator from a state like Washington would be hugely beneficial to the wine industry.
A new Congress is kind of like the beginning of a new school year. There is a short period of getting accustomed to a new schedule and a new setting but then the work begins. 2023 does feature the usual must pass appropriations and funding bills, but also features the next version of the Farm Bill, which must pass every five years.
USPS Shipping Bill
The Issue: Currently 47 states and Washington, DC allow some form of direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine shipment through common carriers, such as FedEx and UPS. In each case, the wine producer is required to have the proper permitting in each state, and is required to pay sales tax on DTC orders. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has been prohibited by federal law from shipping beverage alcohol through the mail, and legislation has been introduced to correct that.
Wine Industry Impact: This bill could bring substantial benefits to American wineries by providing more competition among shipping companies and expanding the geographical areas where wine could be shipped.
WineAmerica Position: WineAmerica has tacitly supported the USPS Shipping Equity Act when it has been introduced in previous Congresses. The bill has never had a real chance of passage, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. The increased demand for direct-to-consumer wine shipments and the need for postal reform have increased the chances for passage. WineAmerica supports the current version of the USPS Shipping Equity Act and will advocate for its passage.
Background: The 21st Amendment established that each state, plus the federal government, is responsible for the regulation of alcohol. Additionally, there are safeguards producers must take to insure that the individual receiving the shipment is 21 or older. The state level regulation of direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments has proven to be very effective. There have been virtually no cases of alcohol being shipped to a minor, and the safeguards in place to prevent it have been shown to work. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased demand for direct-to-consumer wine shipping. This demand, paired with the USPS’s current financial crisis, has led to a renewed desire to allow USPS to direct ship alcohol. It is estimated that opening beverage alcohol shipping to the USPS could unlock up to $180 million in revenue. This is by no means a fix to the USPS’s economic problems, but an untapped revenue stream.
The direct-to-consumer wine shipping market has increased exponentially over the last ten years, and especially in the last year due to Covid. The alcohol industry collectively contributes over $20 billion in annual tax revenue to state and local governments via sales and excise taxes on beverage alcohol, with a major portion of that through taxes collected via direct-to-consumer shipping.
Congress has introduced bills to allow the USPS to legally ship alcohol for many years now. The perennial bill is the United States Postal Service Equity Act, which was introduced by now-retired formerCongresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), who sat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the USPS. The bill never previously had much traction in the House, but the need for postal reform has created some momentum on the issue.
The USPS Shipping Equity Act would allow USPS to ship alcoholic beverages directly from licensed producers and retailers to consumers over the age of 21, in accordance with state and local shipping regulations. This bill will also expand access to consumers for direct-to-consumer shipments. While USPS ships to every household in the nation, private carriers do not, especially in many rural areas. Right now, there are Americans who do not have access to direct-to-consumer alcohol shipments, though they may be legal under their state’s law, because only the Postal Service delivers packages to their door.
There has been some concern (including from WineAmerica) on the ability of the USPS to ship alcohol, but there are safeguards in place at the producer level that would mitigate those concerns, such as age gating on winery websites, and the adult signature requirement.
USPS Shipping Equity Act does not change:
State and local federal excise tax collection and regulation of beverage alcohol. Beverage alcohol producers contribute over $20 billion in annual tax revenue to state and local governments through sales and excise taxes. This legislation does not make any changes to federal excise tax collection, nor does it inhibit state and local authority in regulating beverage alcohol.
Federal excise tax collection and regulation of beverage alcohol. At the federal level, beverage alcohol remains a highly regulated and highly taxed industry with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) serving as the industry’s lead regulator.
Strong safeguards to prevent underage consumption of alcohol by minors. Safeguards like identification checks are critical to preventing minors from purchasing or obtaining beverage alcohol – no matter how it is purchased.
The USPS Shipping Equity Act was introduced in May 2021 as H.R 3287, with Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) as the lead sponsors. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the Senate companion, S, 1663. The bill has the support of the Brewers Association, the American Cider Association, the American Craft Spirits Association and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Congresswoman Speier has retired from Congress, so a new Democrat will need to be the lead sponsor. Congressman Newhouse has agreed to be the lead sponsor of the bill, with the Republicans now controlling the House. We expect Senator Merkley to continue to sponsor the bill in the Senate, with the hunt for a Republican Senator continuing.
The Issue: The wine industry and the larger beverage alcohol industry is one of the most regulated industries in the United States. The 21st Amendment to the Constitution implemented the current regulatory system that includes different laws and regulations for each state, as well as federal regulation of the industry. There are also different rules for each commodity.
Wine Industry Impact: Many wineries are small, family run and owned businesses. They have to navigate through local, state and federal regulations and rules. It can be quite cumbersome and confusing.
WineAmerica Position: WineAmerica works to create a more “user friendly” regulatory environment for the American wine industry. We interface with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) on a regular basis. We also work on our members’ behalf with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal agencies. WineAmerica submits comments regularly to federal agencies on behalf of our winery members and the wine industry as a whole.
Background: In July 2021 President Biden issued an Executive Order intent on promoting competition in the American economy. The order establishes a White House Competition Council to oversee the administrative implementation of the policies established by this executive order. According to the executive order, “The Council shall coordinate, promote, and advance Federal Government efforts to address overconcentration, monopolization, and unfair competition in or directly affecting the American economy.”
The White House Competition Council is led by the Director of the National Economic Council and also consists of a combination of Cabinet secretaries and heads of various independent federal agencies. Each agency will work to develop its own plan of action to address the concerns of this executive order. The Secretary of the Treasury is tasked with this for the Treasury Department, including regulation of beverage alcohol and the TTB.
The text below explicitly outlines the scope of this executive order in relation to the beverage alcohol industry.
To protect the vibrancy of the American markets for beer, wine, and spirits, and to improve market access for smaller, independent, and new operations, the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Chair of the FTC, not later than 120 days after the date of this order, shall submit a report to the Chair of the White House Competition Council, assessing the current market structure and conditions of competition, including an assessment of any threats to competition and barriers to new entrants, including:
(i) any unlawful trade practices in the beer, wine, and spirits markets, such as certain exclusionary, discriminatory, or anticompetitive distribution practices, that hinder smaller and independent businesses or new entrants from distributing their products;
(ii) patterns of consolidation in production, distribution, or retail beer, wine, and spirits markets; and
(iii) any unnecessary trade practice regulations of matters such as bottle sizes, permitting, or labeling that may unnecessarily inhibit competition by increasing costs without serving any public health, informational, or tax purpose.
(k) To follow up on the foregoing assessment, the Secretary of the Treasury, through the Administrator of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, shall, not later than 240 days after the date of this order, consider:
(i) initiating a rulemaking to update the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s trade practice regulations;
(ii) rescinding or revising any regulations of the beer, wine, and spirits industries that may unnecessarily inhibit competition; and
(iii) reducing any barriers that impede market access for smaller and independent brewers, winemakers, and distilleries.
What does this mean for wine? It could mean quite a lot. The first two clauses deal with the distribution of alcohol by the wholesale tier. There has been a lot of consolidation in the wholesale tier and that has led to increased difficulty for smaller or newer producers to enter the wholesale and retail market. The regulation of those markets has largely been left to the states and this could lead to increased federal oversight. The third clause is something the TTB has already been examining internally. In the last few years we have seen the labeling and permit systems streamlined, and the TTB has opened up the standards of fill for wine and spirits, and plans to allow for more in the near future.
The last three clauses direct the TTB to fully examine all of their regulations regarding the distribution of alcohol. The last clause in particular stands out as it could allow the federal government to look into state- level barriers to market, which. This could include impediments to direct shipping. Regardless, this executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on the way alcohol is sold here in the United States.
Recent TTB Actions: Standards of Fill
On May 25, 2022 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking: Notice 210: Standards of Fill for Wine and Distilled Spirit. The proposed rulemaking would authorize ten additional standards of fill for wine. Additionally, in line with the Treasury Department February 2022 report on competition in the alcohol marketplace, the TTB is once again considering an alternative, eliminating all but a minimum standard of fill for wine containers and all but a minimum and maximum for distilled spirits containers. According to TTB, “thus potentially eliminating regulatory requirements, reducing barriers to competition, and providing consumers with broader purchasing options.”
Originally, metric standards of fill for wine, established in 1974, were optional. They were then made mandatory in 1979 and were amended in 1978, 1981, 1990 and 2020.
The current approved standards of fill for wine are:
- 50 ml
- 100 ml
- 187 ml
- 200 ml
- 250 ml
- 355 ml
- 375 ml
- 500 ml
- 750 ml
- 1 liter
- 1.5 liters
- 3 liters
- Wine may be bottled or packed in containers 4 liters are larger as long as it is in even liters (4 liters, 5 liters, 6 liters, etc.)
WineAmerica is strongly opposed to eliminating all but the minimum standards of fill for wine. We do support limited additions to the existing standards of fill; however, any additions to the existing allowable standards of fill should stem from a request from a large segment of the wine industry, and not just one or two producers or importers. Notice No. 210 illustrates that the TTB is willing to add a new standard of fill for one when petitioned by one or two industry members. We do not believe that is the proper way to add new standards of fill into the existing regulations. Additionally, this new rulemaking comes a mere three years after Notice 182, which also addressed standards of fill for wine.
WineAmerica is aware that the US-Japan trade agreement from October 2019 included a “side letter” agreement that requires Treasury to take further rulemaking on additional standards of fill not addressed in Notice 182. The wine sizes listed in the Side Letter were not referenced in Notice No. 182, as TTB had not previously received petitions for those sizes. Because the requested wine sizes—180, 300, 360, 550, and 720 milliliters, and 1.8 liters—were not referenced in Notice No. 182, TTB is proposing the addition of those sizes in Notice 210
We will now address the specific regulatory changes recommended in TTB Notice 210.
Proposed Standards of Fill (Alternative 1)
TTB is proposing to add the six standards of fill for wine listed in the Side Letter discussed above—180, 300, 360, 550, and 720 milliliters, and 1.8 liters— as authorized standards of fill for wine. TTB is also proposing to add the 330, 620, and 700 milliliters and 2.25 liters sizes as authorized standards of fill for wine. TTB is specifically interested in comments that address whether the proposed sizes would result in consumer confusion regarding the quantity of wine in the container.
WineAmerica Comment:WineAmerica does not support adding in ten new standards of fill for wine at this time. Less than two years ago, TTB issued their final decision on Notice 182. At that time, TTB added in the 200, 250 and 355 ml sizes as accepted standards of fill for wine. WineAmerica specifically advocated for the 250 and 355 ml container sizes as our members (and the industry as a whole) wanted their inclusion due to the increased practice of canning wine for individual sale. Our membership did not express any need for other new standards of fill and still does not now, a mere three years later.
Our comments on Notice 182 reflected that WineAmerica did not support an “administrative approval” process for additional standards of fill. TTB suggested that if there was “good cause” for a new approved standard of fill then perhaps it should be added to the existing standards of fill. It is unclear how a “good cause” for approval is defined. WIthout a clear definition of “good cause” we do not think this a viable precedent for TTB. The TTB has the authority to issue notice of proposed rulemakings (NPRM) for any new standards of fill that may be petitioned for. WineAmerica feels this is an adequate response for the TTB for new petitions.
Taking away the sizes petitioned for through the US/Japan Trade Agreement, it appears that the other sizes suggested here do not have what would be considered to be “good cause” to be added into the accepted list of standards of fill. In fact, it appears that only one or two industry members submitted petitions to include those sizes. The lack of true “good cause” for these sizes suggests that they should not be accepted as new standards of fill. The prevalence of so many new container sizes would lead to consumer confusion and would cause market disruptions.
Eliminating the Standards of Fill (Alternative 2)
TTB also seeks comment on an alternative of eliminating the existing standards of fill for wine and distilled spirits, except to maintain in the regulations a minimum standard of 50 milliliters for both wine and distilled spirits and a maximum standard of fill of 3.785 liters for distilled spirits.
WineAmerica Comment: WineAmerica is strongly opposed to the portion of the rulemaking that would eliminate all standards of fill for wine. We believe that the removal of a uniform federal standard would lead to considerable consumer confusion and cause significant marketplace disruption. Currently, 38 states defer to the federal standard and if it is eliminated, these states will be forced to enact new container size requirements. This will create serious disruption to business as wineries would have to overhaul their sales, marketing, and compliance models to adjust to 38 varying state regulations.
The proposed deregulation of this federal standard would cause:
- unnecessary consumer confusion;
- significant disruption to business operations;
- difficulty with assuring compliance across state lines; and,
- unnecessary expenditure of state resources to create standards in lieu of the federal standards of fill.
A proliferation of container sizes would likely result from the elimination of standards of fill, which would run directly counter to TTB’s stated mission of prohibiting consumer deception.
If standards of fill are eliminated, it could create an opportunity for some producers to reduce their costs while not reducing their prices. For example, a consumer may not be able to tell the difference between a 700 ml bottle of wine and the standard 750 ml bottle size. Wine bottles currently come in different shapes depending on the style of wine in the bottle, but the consumer can confidently know that each bottle, despite the difference in appearance, holds the same amount of wine when comparing prices and servings per bottle.
WineAmerica believes that adding in new standards of fill for wine, as well as possibly eliminating standards of fill completely would be a mistake. While we appreciate TTB’s willingness to look at these types of rules, we believe that the unintended consequences of this proposal would be detrimental to the American wine industry and for that we are opposed to these proposals.
WineAmerica Submits Comments on TTB Notice 211
The following comments were submitted by WineAmerica on Notice 211 on August 12:
On June 13 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau published a proposal to amend its wine labeling and advertising regulations to remove an existing regulatory prohibition against statements which indicate that a wine contains distilled spirits. This proposed deregulatory action will allow wine makers and importers to provide additional information to consumers about their wines, while still providing consumers with adequate and non-misleading information as to the identity and quality of the products they purchase.
WineAmerica has been a strong proponent of truth in labeling and advertising, and believes this will afford American wineries more flexibility for labeling products in this category. We will now address the specific proposals outlined in TTB Notice 211: Proposal Regarding Labeling Wines Containing Added Distilled Spirits.
Current TTB Regulations
Current TTB regulations prohibit labeling wine to indicate that it contains distilled spirits, with one exception. 27 CFR 4.39(a)(7) states that wine containers and labels may not bear “any statement, design, device, or representation (other than a statement of alcohol content in conformity with 27 CFR 4.36) which tends to create the impression that a wine (i) Contains distilled spirits; (ii) Is comparable to a distilled spirit; or (iii) Has intoxicating qualities.” The one exception to this prohibition: if a statement of composition is required to appear as the designation of a product not defined in part 4, the statement of composition may include a reference to the type of distilled spirits that has been added to the wine. This exception is for wines that do not meet an accepted standard of identity and must have a statement of composition. These are products that typically require a formula approval before labeling, such as grape wines with natural flavoring added. These types of products are allowed to mention the inclusion of spirits on their labeling in advertising.
Impact of 2006 Trade Agreement with European Union
As the petition from the Sweet and Fortified Wine Association notes, many domestic producers make wines that are typically standard grape wines in the style of port, sherry, madeira, or other types of dessert wine which contain added brandy or other distilled spirits. The semi generic names referenced above are prohibited for use (unless they are used by a “grandfathered” brand) on domestic wines as part of the wine trade agreement the United States signed with the European Union in March 2006. Many consumers know the terms port, sherry and madeira. The lack of a viable alternative for domestic producers creates a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. WineAmerica agrees with the Sweet and Fortified Wine Association on this point.
Alternate FDA Meaning of “Fortified”
TTB previously suggested that using the term “fortified” on a label could be problematic because the term “fortified” has a meaning for consumers under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations regarding the labeling of products with added vitamins, minerals, or protein.
WineAmerica believes that wine consumers would no longer be under any assumption that the term “fortified” on a wine label implies that there are added vitamins, minerals or protein. It is an antiquated notion, and clearly wine consumers know that the use of the term “fortified” when describing a wine references the infusion of distilled spirits in the final product.
TTB Proposal: TTB is proposing to amend § 4.39(a)(7) and § 4.64(a)(8) to provide that even for wines that meet a standard of identity, if a wine contains added distilled spirits, a statement of composition may be used which indicates that distilled spirits have been added.
WineAmerica Comment: WineAmerica supports this proposal. We have always advocated for truth in labeling, and we believe the consumer has the right to know what the product is. Permitting the producer to inform the consumer that the wine has been “fortified” with distilled spirits lets the consumer know what exactly is in the bottle. Most domestic producers have been hamstrung in what they can call their fortified products. In the absence of known terms such as “port” and “sherry”, domestic producers have had to rely on proprietary names for their wines, as well as the class/type descriptor “dessert wine”. Additionally, the higher alcohol content does imply that the finished product is not primarily made from grapes or other fruit.
TTB Proposal: TTB is proposing to revise §§ 4.39(a)(7)(i) and 4.64(a)(8)(i), which prohibit any statement, design, device, or representation which tends to create the impression that a wine contains distilled spirits. Under the proposal, the revision would specifically prohibit only those statements that would be false or misleading, such as, for example, a representation that created the impression that the wine contained distilled spirits when it did not. TTB also is proposing additional language that would state that when a wine does contain added distilled spirits, the wine may be labeled with a statement of composition referencing the type of distilled spirit that has been added. In general, under this proposal, a distilled spirits reference would be permissible on a wine label or in an advertisement for a wine, provided that the reference is neither false nor misleading. Similarly, under this proposal, a distilled spirits reference that appeared as part of a truthful and accurate statement of composition would not be considered misleading, as it would provide a context that more clearly communicates to the consumer that the added distilled spirit is merely an ingredient in the wine, and that the product is not a distilled spirits product.
WineAmerica Comment: WineAmerica supports this proposal as written.
WineAmerica expects a new notice of proposed rulemaking related to nutrition, serving facts, and ingredient labeling for beverage alcohol in 2023. The long awaited proposal is expected to come as soon as the first quarter of 2023. One of the main policy items we discussed at our Fall 2022 Board Meeting was WineAmerica’s response to the TTB serving facts rulemaking. It is difficult to form a policy position on a hypothetical proposal, but this is not the first time TTB has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on this topic, as there was a proposed rulemaking way back in 2007.
In October, the group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sued the Treasury Department to compel them to issue a ruling on serving facts, nutrition labeling and ingredient labeling on beverage alcohol labels. More than ten years ago the TTB did issue a temporary ruling that allowed for the voluntary disclosure of this information, but it was technically not a permanent ruling. To that end, CSPI is asking that they make the disclosure mandatory. The TTB has been planning to issue a new notice of proposed rulemaking on this very issue. We expected it to happen last summer, but now it is looking likely that it will be in 2023. We also do not expect the CSPI lawsuit to compel TTB to act sooner, and that expectation was met in November, when TTB responded to their letter. TTB is not planning on acting on the prior rulemaking, however they stated that they will be issuing a new proposed rulemaking and seeking comment “within a year”.
WineAmerica was not in favor of nutritional labeling and serving facts on wine labels, and our comments on the old rulemaking reflected this stance. The reasoning was twofold: A wine label simply does not have the “real estate” available for the FDA serving facts panel that is on almost all food and beverage labels. Secondly, there was no established standard for determining all of the required information for the serving facts panel. Would a winery need to test every product for the information? The cost for that would be more than most wineries could bear. Our comments did reflect that there was a possibility that TTB would require disclosure, so we suggested the information be presented in a linear fashion, that is in smaller print on the label and not on the FDA panel. We also suggested the use of ranges based on alcohol content of the product to determine the nutritional information. Below is a summary of our position from 2008.
The proposed changes, if mandated, would affect industry labeling by:
- Requiring a statement of calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein.
- Establishing 5 oz. as the standard serving size for table wine and 2.5 oz. standard serving size for dessert wine.
- Eliminating “table wine” from the label and instead listing the actual alcohol content, even if it falls in the table wine range.
WineAmerica in its opposition to the proposed rule submitted comments to the TTB including the following points:
- Wine is not a food consumed primarily for nutritional purposes. It has no fat or protein, so the labeling will not necessarily be useful to consumers.
- Changing the labeling law will make it necessary for all US wineries to redesign their labels to accommodate the new requirements.
- Nutritional testing could be expensive and provide very little useful consumer information.
- Wineries may have to increase the prices of their product to cover the added expense.
- The proposed labeling regulations will make the jobs of small-scale, and often high-quality, wine producers more difficult, and also make it harder for them to compete in a larger marketplace.
- The 5 oz. serving standard should apply to wines from 7% to 16% since many ordinary wines are between 14 and 16 %.
- The current TTB policy of allowing voluntary disclosure for nutritional information should be retained and mandated only when caloric or nutrition claims are made.
- Continue to allow wineries to label any wine with alcohol between 7% and 14% by volume as “Table Wine.”
- Nutritional information for wine should be limited to calories.
- TTB in cooperation with other government bodies should publicize that a serving of wine contains approximately 120 calories.
- If TTB mandates nutritional information on wine labels, broad tolerances should be allowed in order to minimize analytical and printing costs.
- If TTB mandates additional information, a linear presentation in small type should be allowed.
WineAmerica will be sending a survey to the industry as a whole to see where opinions are on this issue. We expect that to inform our position on the issue. Stay tuned.
Taxes: Ready-to-Drink Cocktails
Should state and federal excise taxes be reduced for ready-to-drink cocktails? The short answer is no.
There is a longer, more nuanced answer, however. Two years ago WineAmerica and our colleagues were able to secure passage of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. (CBMTRA). The bill made certain tax credits permanent for all beverage alcohol, including some very large cuts for the distilled spirits industry. The process of making the CMBTRA took nearly six years and was unprecedented in the fact that all of the commodities worked together. It was a stunning achievement and something WineAmerica can hang its hat on for years to come. However, the cooperation on excise taxes was short lived.
Our friends in the distilled spirits industry want more. In recent years the consumer has gravitated towards lower alcohol, single serving beverages. This has led to the rise in what is known as a ready-to-drink cocktail. These are basically canned mixed drinks that have a lower alcohol content than what you would get at a bar. Many are around five or six percent alcohol, but there are versions with a higher alcohol content. The distilled spirits industry believes that excise taxes are too high for these products. There have been efforts at the state level to lower the excise tax rates on these products, and we believe that could happen at the federal level too.
We believe the CBMTRA really gave the alcohol industry a boost. Why mess with a good thing? We didn’t get everything we wanted in the bill, but it was a monumental piece of legislation and we shouldn’t be looking to change anything so soon after passage.
The short answer is no.
Two years ago WineAmerica and our colleagues secured passage of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA). The bill made certain tax credits for alcohol permanent, including some very large cuts for the distilled spirits industry. The Craft Beverage Act took nearly six years, and the fact that all of the commodities worked together was unprecedented. The bill was a stunning achievement. Industry cooperation on excise taxes, however, was short lived.
Our friends in the distilled spirits industry want more.
Consumers have gravitated towards lower alcohol, single serving beverages in recent years, leading to the rise in ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails–basically, canned mixed drinks, which at 5-6% abv., carry a lower alcohol content than what you would get at a bar. The distilled spirits industry believes that excise taxes are too high for these products. They have tried to lower the excise tax rates on these products at the state level. We believe they will try at the federal level too.
The Craft Beverage Act really gave the alcohol industry a boost. Why mess with a good thing?
Federal Cannabis Legalization
The Issue: Many states have either decriminalized the use of cannabis, or allow for medical or recreational consumption, with currently 37 states that allow for medicinal use, and an additional 17 states that allow for recreational use. While there is not yet formal legislation, there is significant support to legalize and decriminalize cannabis on a federal level.
Wine Industry Impact: The potential decriminalization and legalization of recreational cannabis use could have a wide range of impacts on the American wine industry affecting the areas of agriculture, production, tourism and taxes.
WineAmerica Position: WineAmerica has not taken a formal position on the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis. We continually monitor the Congressional efforts on the issue and discuss its status and implications with relevant stakeholders.
Background: The use and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law for any purpose, by way of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I substance, determined to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use – thereby prohibiting even medical use of the drug.
The discrepancy between state and federal laws has led to a considerable amount of confusion about the legality of cannabis. From banking to distribution and taxation, the federal government has not taken a formal role in the enforcement and regulation of cannabis possession and consumption. That looks to possibly change with the current Congress.
Many of the regions where cannabis is grown in the United States overlap with where a large portion of wine grapes are grown. The marijuana plant requires different care than a grapevine, including the use of certain pesticides and herbicides that could potentially damage wine grapes if they were to become exposed. Additionally, there is a significant lack of regulation (particularly at the federal level) for cannabis growth.
From a marketing standpoint, the cannabis industry has looked to the example of the wine industry. They would like to develop appellations of origin and agritourism marketing programs in the same vein as the wine industry. The increased use of recreational cannabis could also encroach on the consumer market share wine enjoys.
The regulation of cannabis at the federal level will also directly impact the regulation of wine and other beverage alcohol products as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the likely agency to tax and regulate the industry.
There have been many false starts to federal decriminalization and legalization of cannabis. With the Democratic controlled House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House, there was a realization that it could happen in 2022, but that was not the case. The House has passed a few pieces of legislation over the years, such as the Safe Banking Act that would legitimize the banking industry for cannabis, as well as more comprehensive bills. Currently in the Senate the push for legalization is being driven by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism Chair Cory Booker (D-NJ). They did introduce a bill in the summer of 2022, but it did not gain any traction.
Policy Proposals: The main Senate sponsors did introduce a comprehensive bill in 2022, which was based on a proposal that was unveiled in 2021.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), created a formula for decriminalization and legalization on the federal level that addresses certain details not yet seen in other cannabis proposals.
Why should the wine industry care about this? Beyond the agricultural issues that cannabis and grapes have, which are primarily state-level matters, there will be some regulatory overlap with how cannabis is taxed and regulated if it were to become legal under this proposal. When the discussion draft was circulated to certain stakeholders last summer, WineAmerica submitted comments and the proposal, as written, should allow for us to be neutral on the bill.
Some of the provisions of interest to us are:
- If legalized at the federal level, the bill transfers cannabis regulation from the Drug Enforcement Agency to be split between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)
- The TTB would regulate permitting and tax collection for cannabis producers, the FDA would regulate labeling and advertising for cannabis products
- The Federal Alcohol Administration Act is to be amended to allow for the regulation of cannabis at the federal level. It DOES NOT change any of the alcohol language
- It directs the FDA to devise a federal cannabis impairment standard
- It establishes federal excise tax rates for cannabis production and sales
- $100,000,000 in extra funds are provided to TTB to regulate the cannabis industry
This bill did not gain any legislative traction in 2022. It is unclear what its status will be in the new Congress. Regardless of that, the Biden Administration has commuted the sentence of all individuals that have been charged with Federal crimes related to cannabis possession. The Administration is also examining the removal of cannabis from the listing of “schedule 1” narcotics.
Conclusion: While WineAmerica does not have a formal position on cannabis legalization at the federal level, it is essential that we are involved in the process. If the TTB does become the primary regulator of the industry we will need to work to maintain their ability to effectively regulate the alcohol industry. There is also the myriad of state and local level challenges that this process will face going forward. WineAmerica will continue to monitor this issue as it progresses in 2023 and beyond.
Farm Bill Development
The Issue: The Farm Bill is once again up for authorization. It is one of the most consequential pieces of legislation that WineAmerica works on every five years.
Wine Industry Impact: Wine is a value added agricultural product. It is taken from a raw product (grapes) and made into a different product that “adds value” to the cost of the raw product. The Farm Bill is essential to viticulture in America and is always a big ticket agenda item for WineAmerica. While not a terribly exciting issue, it does help the wine and grape industry quite a bit. Below are a few examples.
- Crop Insurance: While not perfect for vineyards (some cannot even qualify) this program can help with natural disasters (freeze, fire, flood) and is a lifeline in a time of need.
- Speciality Crop Block Grants: These grants, funded by the Farm Bill, have helped with marketing and research for the industry. Many wineries, trade associations, universities and state departments of agriculture have applied for and used these grants to help the grape growing and wine industries in their states. Wine grapes are considered a “specialty crop” rather than a row crop.
- Market Access Program: The MAP program is a federal assistance program that assists with funding for exports. California, New York, Oregon and Washington have all used this program
- Research funding: The USDA does a lot of research and part of that is devoted to grape growing. Additionally, in 2023 WineAmerica will be pursuing additional research funding for accurate vineyard statistics.
WineAmerica Position: The Farm Bill is one of the top domestic policy priorities for WineAmerica, and 2023 will be no different. WineAmerica lobbies on the Farm Bill in three distinct ways, much like most issues we work on. As a small trade association we must rely on others to help get our message out.
- Direct Lobbying: WineAmerica staff meets directly with Congressional staff and Members and outlines our needs for the bill. Starting in January WineAmerica will meet with the staff of every Member of Congress and Senator on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. We will then broaden our reach to the rest of Congress.
- Grassroots Lobbying: WineAmerica will call on its members to reach out to their Members and Senate offices. Constituent lobbying will often have more impact than a trade association.
- Coalition Work: WineAmerica is an active member of the Speciality Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a group of trade associations working together to advance the needs of speciality crops on the Hill.
Background: The Farm Bill is what is known as authorizing legislation. It “authorizes” what the Department of Agriculture can spend on certain programs each year. It is then up to the Congress to fund the programs each year through the appropriations process. The Farm Bill must pass every five years (roughly) and if Congress cannot get it done by the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30) what is known as a continuing resolution must be passed to keep the various USDA programs contained in the Farm Bill authorized. The last Farm Bill was passed and signed into law in 2018. It was known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The two committees that primarily work on the Farm Bill are the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Agriculture committee.
There is a six-part process to the passage of the Farm Bill, like most other pieces of legislation. Since the Farm Bill is so large it actually does follow the traditional process for how a bill is passed, rather than get attached to another piece of legislation.
- Hearings: The House and Senate Agriculture Committees (and their subcommittee) usually start holding hearings on the Farm Bill the year before it must pass. This will include hearings in DC, as well as what are known as field hearings, which are held all over the country.
- Drafting and Mark-up: After the Committees have held hearings and hear from stakeholders, they will draft the bill. Both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees will draft up versions of the bill, which may have subtle differences. They will then vote on them and pass them out of committee.
- Floor Debate and Votes: Once the Committees have passed their bills, the full House and Senate will have a debate on the bills, amendments will be offered and eventually the hope is that they both pass the bill.
- Conference Committee: Once the House and Senate each pass their bills, it will go to a Conference Committee, which will consist of members of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. It is here where the differences in the bills will be reconciled into one bill both sides can agree to.
- Final Debate and Passage: The reconciled bill is then sent to the full House and full Senate for debate and passage.
- Presidential Signature: Once both the House and Senate have passed the final version of the bill, it will be sent to the President for his signature.
What is in the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill contains chapters or titles covering all aspects of agriculture. There were twelve in the last Farm Bill, and we expect the same twelve to be in the next Farm Bill. They are:
Title 1: Commodities. The Commodities title covers price and income support for the farmers who raise widely-produced and traded non-perishable crops, like corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice – as well as dairy and sugar. The title also includes agricultural disaster assistance.
Title 2: Conservation. The Conservation title covers programs that help farmers implement natural resource conservation efforts on working lands like pasture and cropland as well as land retirement and easement programs.
Title 3: Trade. The Trade title covers food export subsidy programs and international food aid programs.
Title 4: Nutrition. The Nutrition title covers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] (formerly known as food stamps) as well as a variety of smaller nutrition programs to help low-income Americans afford food for their families.
Title 5: Credit. The Credit title covers federal loan programs designed to help farmers access the financial credit (via direct loans as well as loan guarantees and other tools) they need to grow and sustain their farming operations.
Title 6: Rural Development. The Rural Development title covers programs that help foster rural economic growth through rural business and community development (including farm businesses) as well as rural housing, and infrastructure.
Title 7: Research, Extension, and Related Matters. The Research title covers farm and food research, education, and extension programs designed to support innovation, from federal labs and state university-affiliated research to vital training for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Title 8: Forestry. The Forestry title covers forest-specific conservation programs that help farmers and rural communities to be stewards of forest resources.
Title 9: Energy. The Energy title covers programs that encourage growing and processing crops for biofuel, help farmers, ranchers and business owners install renewable energy systems, and support research related to energy.
Title 10: Horticulture. The Horticulture title covers farmers market and local food programs, funding for research and infrastructure for fruits, vegetables and other horticultural crops, and organic farming and certification programs.
Title 11: Crop Insurance. The Crop Insurance title provides premium subsidies to farmers and subsidies to the private crop insurance companies who provide federal crop insurance to farmers to protect against losses in yield, crop revenue, or whole farm revenue. The title also provides USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) with the authority to research, develop, and modify insurance policies.
Title 12: Miscellaneous. The Miscellaneous title is a bit of a catch-all. The current title brings together six advocacy and outreach areas, including beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers, agricultural labor safety and workforce development, and livestock health.
The 2023 Farm Bill is not obligated to have the same titles as the 2018 Farm Bill, but we don’t expect Congress to stray too far from these titles in 2023. However we may see cost increases this year, bringing the cost up to $1 billion.
Vineyard Statistics: We Need Them
USDA Vineyard Data Research Funding
Grapes are grown in all 50 states for wine, grape juice, table grapes, and raisins, and are one of America’s highest value crops, and yet there are no current, comprehensive, credible statistics on vineyard acreage, production or crop value. WineAmerica’s National Economic Impact Studies of the Wine Industry in 2017 and 2022 show that the lack of reliable vineyard data substantially undervalues the grape industry’s contributions to America’s agricultural economy and its potential development. Wine is the ultimate value-added product, and we need to accurately quantify just how much the growing of wine grapes adds to the American economy. The 2022 study showed a $276 billion total economic benefit to the economy from the wine industry, but that is likely undervalued due to the lack of reliable vineyards statistics.
WineAmerica is taking the lead in asking Congress and the Administration to include in the 2023 Farm Bill the authorization and funding for the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service to conduct a nationwide survey of vineyards by state, including total acreage, different grape varieties, varietal uses, relative crop value, full-time equivalent employment, and other measures.
The next Farm Bill provides a great opportunity to restore adequate funding and better direction to the USDA so that the nation’s agricultural bounty can be better documented, and agriculture could be better represented as an important contributor to the American economy.
WineAmerica continues to advocate on behalf of small businesses on the issues of music licensing on Capitol Hill. Last year, we saw a win when the Department of Justice completed a multi-year review of the ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees, ruling that no changes were to be made. This preserved a business right to a “blanket license” upon request; the “similarly situated” clause, stipulating that similarly situated businesses would be charged the same; and a business’s right to contract directly with a singer/songwriter.
New Items for Wine: Agritourism Bill and Vineyard Statistics
Agritourism Bill (H.R. 6408)
Often a “small” bill will be introduced with the intention of it being “folded into” a larger bill. Such is the case with the Agritourism Bill.
Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) introduced the bill that would create an Office of Agritoursm within the USDA . Congresswoman Wexton’s district is home to many breweries, distilleries and wineries in the DC suburbs, and she is the Chair of the House Agritourism conference. The Office of Agritourism would be primarily tasked with promotional work, but would also be able to distribute federal grants. The idea behind the bill is to lay the groundwork for including a similar provision in the next Farm Bill. Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) has joined the bill as the initial Republican co-sponsor.
The Accelerating the Growth of Rural Innovation and Tourism Opportunities to Uphold Rural Industries and Sustainable Marketplaces (AGRITOURISM) Act. The bill would create an Office of Agritourism at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to serve as a dedicated voice for agritourism businesses in the federal government and to consolidate information on federal resources available to agritourism business owners.
Agritourism is a successful and expanding industry throughout the country. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, agritourism-related income jumped from $202 million in 2002 to $949 million in 2017 — a nearly 370% increase. In communities like those represented by Rep. Wexton, agritourism has enabled small farmers to expand their businesses and increase profits, which has boosted local economies while maintaining the rural character of the region.
The AGRITOURISM Act is supported by the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association, Inc. (International Agritourism Association) and WineAmerica. As we look ahead to the 2023 Farm Bill, this will be a priority for WineAmerica.
USDA Vineyard Data Research Funding
WineAmerica is the National Association of American Wineries in Washington, DC, and represents over 400 members from 40 states, including wine producers, winery trade associations, and suppliers to the grape and wine industry. The principal contact for legislative and regulatory issues is Executive Vice President and Director of Government Affairs Michael Kaiser (email@example.com)
The Issue: Grapes are grown in all 50 states for wine, grape juice, table grapes, and raisins, and are one of America’s highest value crops, and yet there are no current, comprehensive, credible statistics on vineyard acreage, production or crop value.
Wine Industry Impact: WineAmerica’s two National Economic Impact Studies of the Wine Industry in 2017 and 2022 show that the lack of reliable vineyard data substantially undervalues the grape industry’s contributions to America’s agricultural economy and its potential development. Wine is the ultimate value-added product, and we need to accurately quantify just how much the growing of wine grapes adds to the American economy. The 2022 study showed a $276 billion total economic benefit to the economy from the wine industry, but that is likely undervalued due to the lack of reliable vineyards statistics.
Current Status: The Omnibus spending bill passed on December 23, 2022 includes language that “encourages NASS to reinstate the 5-year Vineyard and Orchard Acreage Study and resume data collection and reporting so grape, wine, and juice producers can remain competitive and respond to challenges in the industry.” (NASS is the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.)
WineAmerica Position: The Omnibus bill language is a very important first step, but more needs to be done soon. WineAmerica is asking Congress and the Administration, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), to encourage the timely start of the NASS nationwide survey of vineyards by state, including total acreage, different grape varieties, varietal uses, relative crop value, full-time equivalent employment, and other measures.
Recommendation: The Omnibus bill also included an additional $20 million beyond the normal NASS funding level, suggesting there is money to begin the project soon. As a perspective, that new amount equals less than 3% of the federal excise taxes paid by wineries ($875 million), less than 0.013%% of total federal taxes paid (business and consumption) of ($15.5 billion), and a miniscule portion of wine’s total economic impact on the American economy ($276 billion). In addition, all 50 states would benefit from the information gleaned from this survey, which is the first in over 15 years; and once the baseline is established, future surveys should cost less. WineAmerica will also be requesting that the 2023 Farm Bill include authorization and funding for future surveys.
Additional Background from John Dunham & Associates: (JDA is an economic research form that conducts studies for many of the most agricultural and food processing industries in the country, including the dairy, meat, and wine sectors; and conducted the two national economic impact studies of the wine industry for WineAmerica. JDA’s most recent examination of the total food and agriculture industry found that it contributes a total of $7.4 trillion in output to the nation’s economy (https://feedingtheeconomy.com).
In November 2022, the US Department of Agriculture began mailing out its 5-year Agricultural Census to farmers all around the country. The Census of Agriculture is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches, and the people who operate them. Even small plots of land – whether rural or urban – growing fruit, vegetables or some food animals count if $1,000 or more of such products were raised and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the Census year.
The COVID-19 shutdowns, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the continuing supply shortages, all demonstrate how America’s agricultural industry is paramount to not only the nation’s economy, but to its national security. This means that reliable information about the nation’s farms is needed for businesses, consumers, and especially legislators to make sound decisions.
The latest wine industry study showed a $276 billion boost to the economy in 2022. In addition, it is important to note that grapes are grown in all 50 states, so a nationwide vineyard survey would benefit every state.
Over the years, research regarding food production, sales, and distribution has become increasingly more difficult to conduct and less accurate because data from USDA’s statistical programs are no longer available. There is no consistent data on farm production available anymore from the US or from state governments, and private sources of data are at best random. The recently conducted study on America’s wine industry showed that there is not even a consistent definition of what a vineyard is across the fifty states, and even in California and Washington, the only two states for which the USDA collects vineyard data, the statistics are poor and conflicting.
The USDA is the nation’s fifth largest agency in terms of spending. This makes understanding the effect and implications of how $230 billion of taxpayer money is used particularly important. The Agency is scheduled to spend just 1.7 percent of its budget on research. This includes $46 million for the Census of Agriculture, which is about $23 per farm. It costs $50 per survey response to conduct this type of research in the private sector. In addition, the Agency has announced that they will be using the same methodology as their last Census of Agriculture, which means that there will continue to be almost no information available on agricultural production even after this $46 million is spent.
The USDA once housed two of the premier statistical offices in the world (the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the Agriculture Research Service). The USDA collected detailed data on farm output, pricing and acreage at the county level, but this data has not been available since 2007. State level data from the last Agricultural Census is also limited, with the agency focusing nearly all of its data collection efforts on organic production statistics, rather than more useful overall production data. These changes and reductions have made it increasingly difficult to understand the American agricultural economy, particularly because no other agency (or for that matter private data source) collects particularly accurate information on the agricultural sector.
The Omnibus bill’s endorsement of a new, updated national vineyard survey provides a great opportunity to restore adequate funding and better direction to the USDA so that the nation’s agricultural bounty can be better documented, and agriculture could be better represented as an important contributor to the American economy.