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Napa Valley Vintners Encourage Other Groups to Join Their Fight to Relax Tied House Rules


By Barbara Barielle

At the Napa Valley Vintners, Associate Director of Labor Relations Michelle Novi is already thinking about next steps after achieving a measurable victory over antiquated “Tied House” rules in today’s environment of social media marketing and communication.

On January 1, 2019, it will no longer be against the law to include photos and other images of the venue where your wines, beers and spirits are featured in events, dinner or tastings. You may also include a website and email address and are not just limited to an address and phone number.

While in the fast-moving networks that spread information this may seem natural, these simple marketing tools have been disallowed under Tied House laws that prevented wineries and manufacturers of alcoholic beverages from adding value to a retailer or restaurant in the form of additional advertising, and featuring the venue in a photo was considered just this.

“What we achieved is a step in the right direction and, while additional changes need to be made and we are not stopping, life in the social space just became easier for wine brands,” says Novi.

Michelle Novi
Michelle Novi

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) identified the need for change early on and set about to affect change in these Tied House laws in 2017, got “their ducks in a row” and were able to get a bill sponsored by Cecilia Aguilar-Curry, state representative for Napa, Yolo and Lake Counties, on the 2018 legislative calendar. The Wine Institute also partnered as a statewide representative for the wine industry.

“The Tied House laws are holdover laws that have their genesis in the Prohibition era and were intended to prevent corrupt relations between suppliers,” says Novi, “but now business is increasingly being done on the basis of relationships between the winery and the customer, other audiences and each other. The winery is basically telling the world what they are doing.”

ABC code meant a winery could not mention a single retailer where an event was happening, could not post a photo, inform their fans or alert their brand followers. The law was basically constraining and widely misunderstood. In the many wineries that she follows on social media, Novi saw many violations of these Tied House laws regardless of how many compliance seminars Napa Valley Vintners and other winery organizations offered for their members. It was just too hard to believe or understand and, therefore, ignored.

In the New Year, wineries will be free to promote their events and dinner, tastings and gatherings with all pertinent information including photos and all contact information, including websites and email, without fear of retaliation. But the Tied House law reform fight is not nearly over.

As Novi explains, “for our 545 vintner members, we are an advocate on their behalf to navigate through the regulatory landscape.” As Novi and NVV go forward with the support of State Representative Aguilar-Curry, it is hoped that their early success will encourage other winery industry organizations to get involved and put their collective muscle behind this reform that has a positive effect for everyone in the business of marketing wines.

Napa Valley Vintners in conjunction with Wine Institute, Compli and FedEx are offering a comprehensive compliance workshop to update vintners and others interested in marketing compliance on:

Thursday, November 8, 2019
10 AM – 3 PM
Napa Marriott
RSVP at Eventbrite (nearly sold out)

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