A Primer on Beer Tastings: Know Your Options

There are a couple of different ways a brewer can get their beer out to a wider audience outside of their brewery. One of course is through distribution to retailers. Another, that has the benefit of getting a lot of people to try your product for the first time, and with built-in goodwill, is to conduct tastings. Be sure you are aware of the regulations governing tastings before you get started to avoid any potential adverse consequences to your license. On-premises tastings: You can hold tastings on your own licensed premises either with or without charge, but not on any portion of your premises that are licensed with a retail license. You may only offer tastings of beer produced or bottled by or for your brewery. Off-premises tastings at nonprofit events: Your beer manufacturer’s license allows you to conduct tastings of your beer off of your licensed premises only for events sponsored by a nonprofit organization. The event must be one attended only by persons affiliated with that nonprofit (each of whom may bring up to three guests to the tasting), and you may not sell or solicit sales of your beer “in that portion of the premises where the beer tasting is being conducted.” (B&P Code § 23357.3(a); CCR 53.5.) You may however, distribute…

Read more

The Sip Stops Here…but Not There, or There, or There: New Restrictions on Interstate Shipping of Wine

According to some retailers, UPS and FedEx are now limiting the interstate shipping of wine. This crackdown is not in response to any new legislation – the shipping companies are instead enforcing existing laws in many states. But First, a Primer on Shipping Alcohol Across State Lines The Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that the transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is prohibited. With the repeal of Prohibition, states were granted significant power over the distribution and sale of alcohol that is not present in laws related to shipping other products. This has led to wildly disparate treatment of the ability to ship alcohol across state lines. For instance, some states allow residents to order wine from any retailer in the US while others don’t allow any shipments at all. The Liquor Law Repeal and Enforcement Act (aka the Webb-Kenyon Act) prohibits shipments of alcoholic beverages between states in violation of any law of the receiving state. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) requires a basic permit for wholesalers, importers, and manufacturers of alcoholic beverages. (Retailers are not required to obtain basic permits under the FAA Act.) Basic permits are…

Read more

Ninth Circuit revisits Actmedia: Heightened Scrutiny Applies to B&P Code Advertising Restrictions

Thirty years ago, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a California statute which prohibits paid advertising of alcoholic beverages at retail outlets. In Actmedia Inc. v. Stroh (9th Cir. 1986) 830 F.2d 957, the court applied the four-pronged test of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Comm’n of New York (1980) 447 U.S. 557 to assess the constitutionality of a law that burdened commercial speech. That test asks: (1) whether the speech concerns a lawful activity and is not misleading; (2) whether the government has a substantial interest in regulating the speech; (3) whether the regulation serves to directly advance the asserted governmental interest; and (4) whether the regulation “is not more extensive than necessary.” The law at issue in Actmedia was Business & Professions Code, § 25503(h), which prohibits manufacturers and wholesalers, as well as their agents, from giving anything of value to a retailer in exchange for on-site advertising. Actmedia was a corporation which leased advertising space on shopping carts. It challenged the law as an impermissible restriction on commercial speech in violation of the First Amendment. Applying the Central Hudson factors, the Ninth Circuit concluded the law was constitutional. The advertising of alcoholic beverages concerned a lawful activity and was not misleading, but California had a…

Read more

Further Delay to the FDA Labeling Requirement

As part of the labeling requirement contained within the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the FDA was required to establish menu-labeling regulations. Enforcement was expected to begin December 1, 2015, but has been delayed twice. The first delay pushed the deadline for enforcement to December 1, 2016. In December, Congress directed the FDA to push the enforcement date until one year after publication of the final guidance. The FDA announcement on March 9, 2016 made this delay official. There has not yet been an indication as to when the final guidance will be published. The rule will require restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations operating under the same name and serving substantially the same menu items to post calorie information for standard menu items and provide guests with additional nutrition information upon request. Originally, alcohol was proposed to be exempted but is now included in the labeling requirement for restaurants. The majority of comments supported having alcohol beverages covered under the final rule due to impacts on public health. A restaurant that meets the parameters of the regulations will have to list calorie and nutrition information for all beer, wine, and spirits listed on a menu. Mixed drinks that are not listed on a menu are exempted, as are liquor…

Read more

Non-Compete Agreements in California

With the proliferation of wineries in California, it’s not uncommon for an owner to find one of its winemakers deciding to leave and set up shop on their own. Is there anything you can do up front to prevent them from taking the craft they’ve honed at your winery elsewhere? The short answer is, in most cases, no. But as with almost everything in the law, there are some exceptions you should know. California public policy strongly favors free and open competition in the marketplace. Business and Professions Code section 16600 states clearly that contractual restraints on competition or trade are void, except as otherwise provided. California courts interpreting this statute emphasize that it protects the right of Californians to pursue any business, occupation, or lawful employment of their choosing. Contract provisions which attempt to place restrictions on a person’s ability to work for a competitor, or open a competing enterprise, are generally unenforceable. That said, you should be aware of the “as otherwise provided” part of the Code. The primary exceptions to the prohibition on non-compete agreements apply to “owners” of a business and arise in the following contexts. First, if you are selling all of your ownership interest, or all of most of the operating assets together with the goodwill of the business, you can agree…

Read more

One Small Step: Easing Restrictions on Advertising in Social Media

On October 1, Governor Brown signed into law AB 780, which updates Business and Professions Code provisions concerning restrictions on manufacturers’ ability to identify or list on-sale or off-sale retail locations where their products are sold. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2016. In an earlier post, “Social Media is Advertising: Know the Basics”, I warned that under then-current law, posting where your product is sold generally ran afoul of restrictions on “giving something of value” to retailers, but was allowed in response to a direct consumer inquiry, and so long as you listed more than one unaffiliated retailer. With the passage of AB 780, wine manufacturers will no longer need to wait for a direct consumer inquiry to post the names and contact information of retailers who sell their product, so long as the listing is made, produced, or paid for exclusively by the manufacturer, includes two or more unaffiliated retailers, and does not contain any mention of retail price. AB 780 should not be taken as an indication of the demise or weakening of California’s tied-house restrictions. AB 780 explicitly sets forth the Legislature’s finding that tied-house restrictions are both “necessary and proper… to prevent suppliers from dominating local markets through vertical integration, and to prevent excessive sales of alcoholic beverages produced by overly aggressive marketing techniques.” Nevertheless, AB 780 is a…

Read more

TTB Update: Return of Wine to Bonded Premises

The TTB is catching up on some regulatory house-keeping. Effective October 15, 2015, TTB regulations governing the return of taxpaid wine to bonded premises will be amended to conform to provisions of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, and the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. The Internal Revenue Code provides that if wine is removed from bonded premises, and subsequently returned, any tax paid on the wine returned to bond shall be refunded or credited (without interest) to the proprietor of the bonded premises. If tax has not yet been paid, then any prior tax liability is relieved. Whereas it used to be that wine returned to bond had to be “unmerchantable,” that is no longer the case under the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. The TTB is now amending its regulations to conform to that Act, by removing the word “unmerchantable” from provisions relating to the return of wine to bond. It also used to be that wine returned to bond had to be produced in the United States. That is no longer the case, under the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. Wine returned to bond must only have first been removed from a bonded wine cellar. TTB regulations pertaining to the return of wine to…

Read more

2015 Grape Escape – Cancelled After Vendors Refuse to Participate in Event Sponsored by Retailer

We recently posted about how social media is advertising, and the care wine manufacturers need to take to ensure they do not run afoul of state tied-house laws. The impact of those laws is being felt locally here in Sacramento, where organizers of the “Grape Escape” – an annual showcasing of local food and wines – have canceled this year’s event which was to be held in early June. Articles about the cancellation indicate that only four wineries signed up to participate this year, down from 47 a year ago. The primary reason appears to be fears over potential citations from the ABC. Last year, eight participants were investigated and put on probation (but not fined) for mentioning the event’s retail sponsor, Save Mart, in their social media postings, or directing consumers to the retailer to purchase tickets. Because manufacturers may not give anything of value to a retailer without violating tied-house restrictions, and because advertising constitutes a thing of value, social media mentions of a retailer by a manufacturer (i.e. “advertising”) runs afoul of the law. Wine and food events such as the Grape Escape have a long and wonderful history. It’s a shame that retail sponsorship of such events can make vendors so nervous they choose not to participate, rather than develop specific guidelines or practices to ensure their promotion of the…

Read more

Going Green: Labeling Organic Wine

Labeling of wine is subject to regulation by the TTB, and requires a certificate of label approval (COLA). Basic information that must be included on all labels include the brand name, class or type of wine, alcohol content, appellation, the bottler’s name and address, contents by volume, a sulfite declaration, and the government health warning. Previously, Uncorked ran a post about font and sizing requirements, accessible here. If you want include “organic” claims on your label, you must satisfy USDA organic regulations for production and handling of your wine. Those requirements are beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say they are extensive. And, the type of “organic” claims you can make on your label are dependent upon a few key factors. To label your wine “Organic” and to use the USDA Organic seal on your label, your wine-making operations must be overseen by a third-party accredited certifying agent (ACA) to ensure compliance with organic production and handling requirements. The yeast used in your wine, and all agricultural ingredients (i.e., grapes) must be certified organic, with the exception of those ingredients on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, information about which can be found here. Non-agricultural ingredients must be on the National List, and are limited to a certain percentage…

Read more

Certified Farmers’ Market Permits: Wine Tastings Included

California winegrowers holding a Type 02 license have been able to sell their wine at farmers’ markets under a special permit (Certified Farmers’ Market Sales Permit) for some time. For a relatively nominal fee, now $50, a licensed winegrower may sell wine at a certified farmers’ market so long as the wine is (a) “produced entirely from grapes or other agricultural products grown by the winegrower” and (b) bottled by the winegrower. The permit is good for an entire year, but the winegrower may only sell wine one day a week at any given farmers’ market. A separate license is required for each certified farmers’ market at which the winegrower’s product is to be sold, but there is no limit on the number of licenses that may be held. Annual sales for wine sold under all certified farmers’ market sales permits held by any one winegrower are limited to 5,000 gallons, and are to be reported to the ABC. As of July 2014, the ABC also allows instructional tasting events to be held at certified farmers’ markets under this license, “subject to the authorization and managerial control” of the particular farmers’ market operator. Restrictions on instructional tasting events are as follows: (1) the event area must be separated from the rest of the market by…

Read more

Placer County Considering Amending Winery Ordinance

Wine regulations can get complicated. Federal and state regulations must be followed, but one must also be aware that mandatory local ordinances can vary from county to county and city to city, adding further hurdles to the success of winemakers and wineries. Localized winery ordinances often regulate the size of tasting rooms, the number of events allowed, and other activities. One such ordinance affecting wineries that host events in Placer County is causing a stir. As it currently exists, Placer County’s Ordinance 17.56.330 of the Planning and Zoning ordinances, adopted in 2008, is designed to “provide for the orderly development of wineries… encourage the economic development of the local agricultural industry, provide for the sampling and sales of value-added products, and protect the agricultural character and long-term agricultural production of agricultural lands.”  It includes provisions that keep special events and crowds to a minimum. All wineries are required to have a permit for up to six promotional events per year. Promotional events are limited to those that are related to producing wine at the facility, i.e. barrel tastings or relase parties of the host winery’s wines. Recently, the Placer County Vintner’s Association has expressed concern that the ordinance is too restrictive, and has requested from the Planning Commission changes that would allow more leeway in holding larger and more…

Read more

Going Green: Sustainability Certification in California

A few weeks ago, I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. One of the seminars I attended dealt with sustainability, a topic that seems to be popping up with increasing frequency in the wine industry. Sustainability is an interesting concept, primarily because it lacks any single definition or set of criteria. And, when it comes to certifying your wine as “sustainable” there are several programs to choose from. Wineries need to do their research to uncover the criteria for each certification program, and evaluate which program best fits their current practices and goals for sustainability. One of California’s main sustainability programs is the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program. It advances and provides resources for practices that are “environmentally sound, socially equitable, and economically viable.” Its certification program – Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW Certified) – provides third-party verification of a winery’s implementation and ongoing improvement of nearly 200 sustainability practices/criteria drawn from a publication called the “California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook,” which is available for free to California vintners and winegrowers here. According to its literature and website, CCSW emphasizes conservation of water and energy, soil health, protection of air and water quality, employee/community relations, and the preservation of local ecosystems and wildlife habitat. Another third-party certified sustainable winegrowing program is Lodi Rules for Sustainable…

Read more

Social Media is Advertising: Know the Basics

There’s no question that social media is critical to marketing one’s product. For wineries, however, maintaining a social media presence comes with some serious restrictions. That’s because social media is considered advertising, and is subject to both federal and state regulations governing the advertising of alcoholic beverages. This post is intended to give you the basics on regulations governing the use of social media by wineries. It is, however, not exhaustive. If you have questions about whether something you want to post is permitted, it’s best to look into it or seek advice before posting, rather than risk an inquiry by the TTB or ABC. Federal regulations set forth both mandatory and prohibited content for any advertising. As for mandatory content, regardless of what social media platform you are using (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc.), you must post the name and address of the permittee responsible for the advertisement. This information does not need to be repeated in each individual post, but should be readily accessible to anyone visiting the page. The best place to put this information is in the “About” or “Profile” section of the page. If you are posting about a specific product, your post is required to have “a conspicuous statement of the class, type, or distinctive designation to which…

Read more

Going Green: Wine on Tap

A couple of months ago, I attended a “Wine Law Forum” put on by the CEB in Yountville, just north of Napa. It was a great day and a half, with seminars on a wide range of timely topics, from buying a winery, to pouring wines in alternative locations, to water regulation issues, to the legalization of recreational marijuana, which could be coming to California in the near future. One seminar that I found particularly interesting concerned alternative types of wine packaging. Specific alternatives discussed? Refillable growlers (which I’ll address in a later post), and wine on tap. Wine on tap? That’s right – wine on tap – straight out of a stainless steel keg. Talk about alternative! Granted, it’s not hard to be “alternative” in an industry where bottle and cork are steeped in tradition, and constitute what many consider to be an integral part of the wine experience. Nevertheless, by the end of the seminar, I was convinced that wine on tap is an inevitable and exciting development in wine packaging. As consumers become more and more insistent on sustainable practices, and producers more and more concerned about efficiency, cost, and increasing competition, wine on tap has something for everyone. Stainless steel kegs are impermeable to oxidation and can keep wine fresh for up to…

Read more

TTB Font and Sizing Label Requirements

A major hurdle that most wine producers hit is the dreaded label design. Although information about TTB requirements is readily available, it can sometimes feel like the regulations are written in a foreign language. Certain TTB terms and font sizing requirements can be tricky. This article is intended to take some mystery out of this aspect of label design for American wines. Of course, exceptions apply, and this article should be read as a foundation of knowledge, and not as specific legal advice for your individual label design. For assistance with your label’s compliance, or to discuss your label’s design, contact us. All wine labels must include the wine’s brand name, class, name and address of the bottler or packer, net contents, FTC yellow dye #5 (if applicable), color additives (if applicable), sulfites declaration (if applicable), alcohol content statement, and the government warning statement. While all of these categories have their own special substantive requirements, font size and spacing requirements also exist. BRAND, CLASS, NAME and ADDRESS, NET CONTENTS, DYES, ADDITIVES, and SULFITES: For wine containers up to 187 ml (splits), the brand, class, name and address, net contents (as opposed to alcohol content), FTC yellow dye, and sulfites declaration must be, “in script, type, or printing not smaller than 1 millimeter, unless contained among…

Read more

Beware the Use of “Volunteers” at your Winery

Over the past few months, as I’ve been mulling over topics for this wine law blog, several people have expressed their surprise at the news that a Bay Area winery was recently cited and fined for labor violations involving over 20 unpaid volunteers. The Department of Industrial Relations investigated when one of the workers was injured and, unsurprisingly, was not covered by workers’ compensation insurance. The fines assessed were so prohibitive – roughly $115,000 – that the winery was forced to shut its doors. It has come as a shock to many in the wine industry that the use of volunteers not only violates California labor laws, but can have such devastating consequences. The Bay Area case is a wake-up call. For those in the industry who have used volunteers in the past, you should re-think that practice. If you are a for-profit business (there are exceptions for non-profits, religious, and charitable organizations), you may not use unpaid volunteers without running afoul of California labor laws. California law defines the term “employ” very broadly to include “to suffer or permit to work.” Your volunteers may not be suffering, but they are performing work for you, and so are technically considered employees entitled to minimum wage, meal and rest breaks, and overtime pay. You as their employer are required to…

Read more