Two intense days…30 people ready to work…70 meetings taken…280 messages delivered
By Jim Trezise
On May 9-10, about 30 WineAmerica members from around the country came to Washington, D.C., to meet with their senators and representatives on issues important to the wine industry. This is something WineAmerica has been doing for decades, but it still feels like a special privilege after the COVID-19 era and, especially, following the events of January 6, 2021.
With an attitude of gratitude, we thanked the Capitol Police officers who monitored the scanners when we entered the House and Senate office buildings. These are the people who were viciously attacked by insurrectionists yet stood their ground and saved our democracy.
Our group met with about 70 elected officials (and their staffs), who shape the business environment under which the wine industry operates. We had a discussion with Mary Ryan, administrator of the Tax and Trade Bureau, and her top aides about several regulatory issues. And we went home knowing we had made a difference by discussing the same four issues in all 70 meetings.
Covering the country
WineAmerica has members in 43 states, and the 30 members who attended represented a broad swath of territory. Executive Vice President and Director of Government Operations Michael Kaiser scheduled the 70 meetings, which focused on legislators from both parties who sit on key committees such as Agriculture, Appropriations, Finance, and Ways & Means.
At the time of our meetings, the White House and House Republicans were engaged in a pitched battle about the debt ceiling, but we could do nothing about that fractious issue, so our focus was on issues directly affecting our industry.
Farm Bill front and center
The importance of the Farm Bill is its broad scope and 5-year duration. It establishes policies and priorities on everything from food stamps to farm subsidies, agricultural research and export promotion.
For the grape and wine industry, the most vital areas of this sweeping legislation are research funding, value-added grants, export promotion, crop insurance and disaster relief programs. In addition to discussing these issues with legislators, a WineAmerica delegation also met with the appropriate officials at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to voice our positions and concerns.
A new item on our agenda for the 2023 Farm Bill is renewed funding for USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to revive a national vineyard survey which has been suspended for about 15 years due to funding cuts. WineAmerica’s 2017 and 2022 National Economic Impact Studies of the Wine Industry showed the glaring lack of data, which therefore undervalues the entire grape and wine industry’s benefits to the economy. As a result, WineAmerica is taking the lead on this issue.
WineAmerica representatives also advocated for the USPS Shipping Equity Act, which would let the postal service ship wine (plus beer and spirits) just as FedEx and UPS do; an Agritourism initiative, which would establish a new department and funding within USDA to support agriculturally based tourism initiatives; and an Agricultural Immigration Workforce measure to ensure adequate legal labor in all parts of our industry.
Nutritional information and ingredient labeling
The meeting at TTB’s headquarters was the highlight of the two-day lobbying marathon. WineAmerica representatives filled the large conference room to the point where TTB Administrator Ryan joked, “there doesn’t seem to be much interest.”
She and her top colleagues invited our delegation to share questions and concerns, which covered several issues ranging from the expedited COLA procedures to trade practices and licensing regulations. In my 40+ years dealing with TTB, I have always found its representatives to be responsive, responsible and reasonable — and this session reaffirmed those characteristics.
While they could not specifically discuss the issues of nutritional information and ingredient labeling — since nothing official has even been started yet — we were able to share our views, concerns and suggestions in case wine (and other alcoholic beverages) may be required to disclose new information about their products, including calorie counts, product ingredients and more.
The process is not even official yet, as TTB needs to issue notices, but WineAmerica has taken a proactive approach by conducting an industry survey and holding two listening sessions (and scheduling more) to keep our members informed. We will continue to stay ahead of the curve, and to make sure WineAmerica members are fully informed of any developments.
An attitude of gratitude
These two days reminded us of how fortunate we are to live in a country where we are free to travel (and have a transportation infrastructure that facilitates it). We can also freely express our hopes and dreams, concerns and suggestions to the people who shape the business climate in which we operate. And we can again meet with them in the offices which were shut down, first by COVID and then, briefly, by the insurrectionists.
We are free. Let’s be grateful.
May 24th – 3 pm EST – Virtual
WineAmerica’s second listening session on Nutrition Information and Ingredient Labeling. This session will cover two vital areas: How EU laws are influencing U.S. regulation, and how American consumers are prompting TTB action. WineAmerica members only.
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 wineamerica.org for more information.
WineAmerica Board Members Ryan Pennington of Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Marty Clubb of L’Ecole No. 41, Josh McDonald of Washington Wine Institute, Dustin Tobin of Precept Wines, Mary Reimers of Washington Winegrowers with Congressman Dan Newhouse (WA-R), co-chair of the Congressional Wine Caucus