Sweeping Changes in Proposed NYSLA Bill Include Expansion for Craft

The New York State Liquor Authority has been busy working on a series of statutory revisions that are intended to revise and streamline the provisions of the NY ABC law governing manufacturing and wholesale licenses. Retailers will also be affected. The SLA plans to submit the proposals to the Governor (who has announced he will be introducing a bill this session to address supplier issues) for his consideration, and held a meeting on April 17 to get input from the industry on the proposed revisions. Stay tuned for an update on the final outcome of this process because the politics and the lobbying from all sides may be fierce; especially over provisions softening the three-tier system in NY.  In the meantime, here are some highlights from the 122-page proposed legislation in its current form:

DTC:  Direct to consumer shipment rights would be extended to craft brewers and craft cider producers.  In addition, any producer with a NY direct shipping permit (winery, brewery or cider producer) would be able to ship products produced by others, in addition to their own, so long as those other producers were located within a 50-mile radius of the shipping producer. The 50-mile radius requirement is interesting because, for example, it would bring most (if not all) of Napa and Sonoma, for example, into the shipping radius for one winery.

Supplier Tastings: The bill would expand the categories of applicants eligible for marketing permits, which allow the holder to conduct tastings and bottle sales at other locations, to certain suppliers and “brand owners.”  Licensed wholesalers and importers would be allowed to obtain a “distributor’s tasting permit” for consumer tastings. “Brand owner” is not defined in the current version, and is likely to spark a battle if it includes, for example, foreign producers, celebrities, and non-producers.

Special Events: Manufacturers and “brand owners” would be able to obtain a permit to sell wine, beer or cider by the glass at special events.

Retailer Tastings:  Grocery stores licensed to sell beer would be able to conduct consumer beer tastings, though all beer poured must be from kegs, not bottles or cans. (The keg requirement was apparently intended to provide some assurance to certain local jurisdictions that have experienced problems with open container violations, though the SLA did indicate that it could be changed down the road if grocery beer tastings go smoothly in the interim).

Wine Growlers:  Retailers would be able to sell wine in growlers.  There is no indication yet how the legislation would address the fact that the TTB currently requires a federal basic permit as a tax-paid bottling house for a retailer to sell growlers; perhaps there would be an exemption provided in the final enabling legislation.

The significance of these proposed measures lies in their potential effect on the three-tier system, not just in NY but in every state that looks to NY for guidance.  Will the proposed changes be viewed by the distribution tier as an attack on their privileges, or as reasonable measures designed to facilitate routes to market for small producers?

Growlers: Not Just for Beer Anymore

In the past few years, wine packaging and dispensing in the U.S. has taken on new forms, going beyond the now-ubiquitous screw caps on bottles.  These include the various permutations of wine “in a box,” Tetra Paks, and single servings of sparkling and still wine in cans.  On-premise retailers are also increasingly offering wines on tap by the glass or carafe, which retain their freshness better than wines from open bottles. These new technologies offer a range of benefits, from environmental (reduction in the use of glass and the supplier’s carbon footprint) to economic (cheaper packaging and lighter, more efficient freight loads), to widening wine’s appeal to new consumers—particularly the younger set, who are more likely to welcome innovation and are less bound to tradition.

Enter the concept of growlers for wine.  A “growler” is a container that most commonly is filled with beer from a tap at a brewery or on-premises beer seller for the consumer to take home, drink, and then refill and use again. Originally a growler might have been a simple metal pail, but today’s growlers are likely to be glass or ceramic jugs.  Since they are reusable, they are better for the environment, fitting right in with the modern day “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethos.

Starting before Prohibition, when wineries sold most of their wines in bulk rather than bottles, wineries in California and elsewhere have been allowed to fill reusable containers for customers at the winery.  This has also been a longstanding practice in Europe (in France, where it is referred to as wine “en vrac,” it’s not uncommon to see a winery employee filling up a customer’s 1.5 liter plastic Evian bottle with wine from a hose).

Filling 'er up with Côtes de Provence AOC Rosé - Photo courtesy of Gastrocycling.com.
Filling 'er up with Côtes de Provence AOC Rosé - Photo courtesy of Gastrocycling.com.

But while many states also allow retailers to sell beer by the growler, very few states allow retailers to sell wine by the growler.  Oregon is one of the first.

Oregon passed House Bill 2443 in April 2013, which, for the first time in that state, permitted wine and cider to be sold in growlers (or, as worded in the bill, “securely covered containers provided by the purchaser”).  The new law also expands the privilege to off-premise licensees, so now restaurants, wine shops, and grocery stores can join breweries and wineries in offering growlers of wine and cider (as well as beer) to their customers.

The law restricts the size of growlers to a maximum of 2 gallons each, and any employee who dispenses alcoholic beverages into a growler must hold a valid service permit issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Some winery associations in Washington hope to have a similar law soon in their state, which currently only allows wineries to sell growlers of wine at the winery location itself, and not at additional tasting room locations.  They would also like to see wine growlers become legal for Washington retailers to sell.

Could California be next?

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