ABC Enforcement - Trends and Predictions

What wineries should know about beverage law, rules and investigations

By: John Hinman, Rebecca Stamey-White and Jeremy Siegel

As long time supporters of Wine Business Monthly, we are always more than happy to contribute when given the opportunity.  Wine Business Monthly is the wine industry’s leading publication for wineries and vineyards, and they asked us to provide their readers with an overview of the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control’s current enforcement trends, and what we see in the near future. 

The article, which can be found in the April issue of the magazine, touches on some of the bigger cases we have defended over the past few years, the lessons learned from these cases, and areas where we have been able to effectively negotiate with the ABC to not only avoid costly hearings for our clients but to further their marketing and sales agendas through legally compliant programs.  These areas include social media marketing and advertising, indirect ownership and other interests between retailers and suppliers, as well as the important details and restrictions that flow from events such as winemaker’s dinners.  Looking forward toward this year’s ABC enforcement priorities, we also commented on a recent uptick in ABC enforcement with regards to credit laws, we touched on the growing prominence of unlicensed third parties in the wine space and we noted that the ABC’s trade enforcement unit is enlarging and becoming more active.  You may never know when that knowledgeable new consumer at your event is really an ABC Agent testing compliance. 

We hope that this article highlights the value of understanding the laws and policies that govern activities in our highly regulated space, as well as the value of consulting effective and experienced alcohol counsel when in doubt.  Grappling with the alcohol laws is not for the faint of heart, but with strong compliance programs, direct confrontations with the ABC (in California and throughout the US) should be few and far between.