Wine consumers want a say in the US

20th June, 2013 by Catherine Seda Bugue

The newly formed American Wine Consumer Coalition is a non-profit organisation created to represent the interests of US wine consumers and their ability to purchase alcohol.

AWCC logoThe drinks business spoke with Tom Wark, executive director of the AWCC, about the organisation’s creation and its goal in dealing with the complicated array of regulations which ban, to different degrees, actions such as winery shipments, retailer shipments, and buying wine in grocery shops in states across the country.

New laws and regulations, says Wark, are created with the input of wineries, retailers, wholesalers and end up representing the interests of the alcohol beverage trade, not the consumers. “Consumers have had no voice” Wark continued, “that ends today.”

Wark pointed to a legal situation where the consumer was directly affected: In 2011, the US Congress held hearings on a bill, HR 1161, which put direct shipments from wineries to consumers under attack. If passed, the bill would have fundamentally changed consumers’ access to wine, yet not a single consumer was invited to testify before Congress.

While inroads are being made today, the AWCC says changes are slow to come, and shared a summary of continuing restrictions:

• 11 states still ban residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state wineries

• 36 states still ban residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state retailers

• 17 states still ban residents from buying wine in grocery stores

• 4 states ban the purchase of wine on Sundays

• 2 states control the sale of wine, rather than allowing its residents to buy their wine in a free and open marketplace

• 15 states ban residents from bringing a bottle from home into a restaurant.

Adding the consumer’s voice to these and other alcohol-related issues is at the top of the organisation’s goals. The AWCC is looking to create regional chapters which represent wine consumers in state houses, on the federal level, and with state alcohol regulatory commissions.

AWCC Tom Wark

The AWCC’s executive director Tom Wark

If the AWCC has its way, when consumers find that rare bottle of Inglenook or a hard-to-find Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon on an online shop whose physical location is several states away, they won’t have to gas up the car if they live in Texas, Florida, New York and other states where shipping across state lines is prohibited. If a visitor to Napa Valley wants the winery to ship bottles to his or her Massachusetts home, they will be able to do so.

While the AWCC is focused on giving consumers a voice, the drinks business asked Wark about the economics behind winery and retailer shipments, and grocery store wine sales. Wark acknowledged that in many cases, monetising their value is “hard to impossible” to do; the figures don’t exist. He relayed the story, however, of an Illinois retailer, who after the ban of retailer direct shipping in that state in 2007, showed a loss of $1 million in sales. Earlier this year, ShipCompliant and Wines & Vines published a joint 2013 Direct Shipping report, putting a value of winery direct shipments at US$1.46 billion dollars in 2012.

Wine consumers have been speaking with their wallets, and now the AWCC gives them a voice.

The AWCC is a member organisation with a yearly fee of $35. Included with this fee are numerous discounts on wine education, wine events, wine publications (such as a year’s free subscription to the CA Connoisseurs Guide to Wine) and wine accessories.

More information can be found at www.wineconsumers.org.

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