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WineAmerica: A Post-Election Washington Retreat (and Treat)

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As the 112th Congress winds down, WineAmerica is currently tracking a few pieces of legislation that are making their way through the process.

By Jim Trezise

 

As the dust was settling after the midterm elections, WineAmerica headed to a different Washington — all the way across the country — for its annual Fall Retreat, which moves to a different wine country location each year. We were fortunate enough to stay in Woodinville, outside of Seattle, and to be hosted by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates at its elegant Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. 

WineAmerica's 2022 Fall Retreat
WineAmerica’s 2022 Fall Retreat

The region also includes many winery tasting rooms, excellent restaurants and other wine country amenities, and we were able to meet with local wine industry leaders in addition to carrying out the meeting’s prime agenda.

Unlike our Spring Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., which involves policy briefings, position papers and Capitol Hill visits by WineAmerica members, the Fall Retreat is a time to reflect on the past year and discuss where we’re going in the year to come. And it always involves changes to WineAmerica’s Board of Directors based on membership voting — which, happily, involves no election deniers.

National representation on the board

As the National Association of American Wineries, WineAmerica’s board reflects a national scope. The four largest wine states (California, New York, Oregon and Washington) each have one representative, with California getting a second due to its industry size. There are also several regional seats (representing the Northeast, Southeast, Great Lakes, Midwest and Rocky Mountain) along with several at-large seats that can be filled with industry from anywhere. The new board is:

The board and staff took special note of three individuals who have gone above and beyond in serving WineAmerica: Janie Brooks Heuks of Brooks Wines (Ore.), who recently served as Chair and Vice Chair; Jerry Douglas of Biltmore Wine Estates (N.C.), who served on the Board for more than two decades and has now retired; and Doug Caskey of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, who has been part of the State and Regional Associations Advisory Council for decades and is retiring.

Post election issue updates

Congress is now in a “lame duck” session, which is intended to wrap up whatever business is possible before a new Congress is sworn in January 3. The most important agenda item is passing a budget through next September, which always comes down to the wire. Since October 1, the government has been functioning on a stopgap “Continuing Resolution” with spending at previous levels until December 16. Hopefully there will be a new budget agreement in place by then.

As for the wine industry, WineAmerica is currently tracking a few pieces of legislation that are making their way through Congress. Here’s where those stand:

USPS Shipping Equity Act. The initiative to let the post office ship wine (and beer and spirits), just as UPS and FedEX now do, did not make it into law this year, but will be introduced in the new Congress, probably by Rep. Dan Newhouse (D-WA), who is Co-chair of the 166-member Congressional Wine Caucus (which includes wine-loving members in both parties and both chambers).

Nutrition Labeling. In a case of deja vu all over again, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has sued the Tax and Trade Bureau to require additional information on wine labels, including ingredient listings and nutritional values among other data. WineAmerica has faced this issue before, and we’re working closely with colleagues at Wine Institute to ensure an all-wine position.

Farm Bill–National Vineyard Surveys. Every five years, Congress negotiates and passes a new Farm Bill that sets policy and priorities for all things agriculture, from research projects to program funding and food stamps. A major priority for WineAmerica is to get authorization and allocations for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to revive and enhance the periodic vineyard surveys throughout the country. Grapes are a very important, high-value crop that deserves to be measured regularly, but this has not been done for many years. WineAmerica’s 2022 Economic Impact Study showed the lack of publicly available, reliable data in this area, which needs to be revived.

Political Probabilities

With rare exceptions, midterm elections are very hard on the party which holds the White House. 2022 was an exception. With Democrats remaining in control of the Senate (and the House still up in the air at this writing), we’re hoping for a smooth transition to the next group of leaders.

In Congress, most major work gets done in committees, and the Democrat control of the Senate increases the likelihood of WA’s Farm Bill priorities because several key committee chairs hail from major wine-producing states, as does Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

WineAmerica is a nonpartisan organization which works with senators, representatives and administration officials of both parties. We will continue to push our agenda for the American wine industry with the appropriate people.

Fortunately, we have a new tool in our lobbying arsenal: WineAmerica’s 2022 National Economic Impact Study of the Wine Industry, conducted by John Dunham & Associates. The total impact is $276 billion — up 25% from the $220 billion of 2017, despite Covid — and we have detailed data on all 50 states, which means every member of the Senate and House should want to help us in our mission: To protect and enhance the business climate for the American wine industry.

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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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