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WineAmerica: The Value of Associations

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Associations bring people together, create consensus, communicate with key constituencies, improve the business climate and grow the industry.

By Jim Trezise

A Finger Lakes winery owner I know belongs to the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, New York Wine & Grape Foundation, New York Wine Policy Institute, WineAmerica … and probably a few more industry associations that I don’t know about.

Why so many? Because they’re all worth it: “They do what I can’t.”

This winery, like others, isn’t drowning in cash. But the owner knows the value of each group, which focuses on different issues: tourism promotion, regional wine branding, multifaceted promotion and research, state legislation, and federal legislation and regulations, respectively. It’s a mosiac of musts.

Keep them separated

Most of these trade organizations are tiny, with staffs from 1 to 7 people and an average of 3 (like WineAmerica). So why not just combine them into a single large organization and write one check?

It’s not that simple. Despite appearances, there’s little overlap in what these organizations do, so each group requires specialized focus and staff. This is particularly true when you separate promotion from research from public policy, which each have different audiences, processes and end goals. Besides, the smallest wineries, in particular, often can’t afford joining several groups, but can choose those most valuable to them. If all these functions were combined into one big organization, the dues would likely be prohibitive.

Each of these associations benefits its members as well as the broader industry. Sticking with New York as the example, the 20 individual wine trails spanning the state have been phenomenally successful in luring tourists to those wine regions and getting them to spend money, not only at the wineries, but throughout local economies. The regional alliance promotes the Finger Lakes “brand” in urban markets and with trade, the statewide foundation adds more opportunities plus research, while the institute keeps an eye on Albany.

A small collection of U.S. Wine Associations
A small collection of U.S. Wine Associations

And that’s just New York. The same pattern can apply nationwide, from California to Colorado, Michigan to Missouri, Ohio to Oregon, Wisconsin to Washington, and beyond. WineAmerica is currently updating the first-ever national Economic Impact Study of the American wine industry (compiled in 2017) with a 2022 version that will show the industry’s benefits not just nationally, but in each of the 50 states, including the impact of tourism. (The 2017 total national figure was $220 billion.)

The National Organization(s)

Why isn’t there one national winery organization? Because there are two.

WineAmerica and Wine Institute form a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. One is a small “national” association with winery members from 40 states, the other is a large “state” association with national and international reach.

Fortunately, we work well together and, taken as a team, we essentially represent the American wine industry. WA + WI = AWI.

Wine Institute was created in 1934, right after repeal of Prohibition, to make sure that type of overregulation never happens again — and to represent the interests of California wineries. Early visionaries included the late, great American wine historian Leon Adams (The Wines of America) as general manager, and Research Director Louis Gomberg. Together, they created programs of education, promotion and statistical information. Wine Institute membership was, from the beginning, restricted to California wineries (and still is).

Before Prohibition, several states in the northeast and midwest also had significant wine industries, but no organization to represent them. After being decimated by the “noble experiment,” wine gradually rebounded there and beyond. By the late 1970s, several visionaries recognized the need for a non-California association to represent the rest of the national industry. Enter the Association of American Vintners (AAV), which became the American Vintners Association (AVA) and, eventually, WineAmerica.

Why don’t we just merge? Because no one wants to. Politically, it would be a nightmare. Besides, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

I’ve been involved with WineAmerica for more than 30 years, and I remember times when the two organizations weren’t always on the same page — which was unfortunate, unpleasant and unproductive. Thankfully, in recent years, we’ve largely been in sync and able to wield more clout together than either organization could alone.

Bring people together

WineAmerica has just three people — me, and Vice Presidents Michael Kaiser and Tara Good — with a singular focus on federal public policy advocacy. But our multi-state winery membership is augmented by the State and Regional Associations Advisory Council (SRAAC) involving 40 winery trade organizations from different states and regions around the country. The SRAAC is a powerful catalyst for grassroots public policy advocacy.

Wine Institute has many people covering numerous areas — international public policy and trade, federal policy, state-level policy nationwide, legal and regulatory matters, communications, environmental affairs, and other areas. Fortunately, they also have a general philosophy of sharing some information with the broader industry such as direct-to-consumer shipment opportunities and regulations, available to all on their website.

In terms of state-level policy, the WA-WI partnership is ideal. The SRAAC provides a monthly Zoom forum for sharing information, and WI’s Steve Gross (Vice President of State Relations), who is a key member of the group, can also share his intelligence, so we can all work together. One great example: 47 states now allow Direct-to-Consumer wine shipping, which became a lifeline for many wineries during COVID-19, and remains a vital marketing channel today.

Associations do what wineries can’t: bring people together, create consensus, communicate with key constituencies, improve the business climate, and grow the industry.

Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power.

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Jim Trezise

Jim Trezise is president of WineAmerica (WA), the only national wine industry association in the United States. WA is a 500-member strong organization that encourages the growth and development of American wineries and winegrowing through the advancement and advocacy of sound public policy. Membership is encouraged to support the important work of WA, which benefits all U.S. wineries. Go to https://wineamerica.org/ for more information.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. My issue is almost all the organizations deal with issues either important to the largest members and contributors or if issues are common to all. The smaller guy and his issues are never considered, at least mine never have been. Seems the bigger guys have no issue with little guys failing as a side issue. When one has principles it seems no one else does.

  2. As someone who represents small wineries through a state association, I’ve found WineAmerica to be incredibly helpful—to its member wineries, and to its member organizations under the State & Regional Associations Advisory Council. They represent the entire industry, which is overwhelmingly comprised of small businesses. Nice to have such an effective watchdog in DC.

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