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TTB Establishes New AVA Lamorinda Viticultural Area

On Wednesday, February 24th, TTB issued a final rule in the Federal Register establishing a new American Viticultural Area (AVA) called Lamorinda Viticultural Area. The new AVA contains 29,369 acres in Contra Costa County, California and is entirely within the established (and larger) San Francisco Bay and Central Coast AVAs. The original petition was submitted to TTB by Patrick L. Shabram, on behalf of the Lamorinda Wine Growers Association, and proposed the establishment of the “Lamorinda” AVA.  The proposed AVA contains 46 commercial vineyards. The final rule is effective March 25, 2016.

The petition submitted by Mr. Shabram noted the distinguishing features include topography, geology, soil, and climate, such as the following:

  • The terrain of the Lamorinda is composed of moderate-to-steep hills with narrow valleys. Such steep hills prevent the use of machinery for vineyard work and instead require work to be done by hand.
  • The hilly terrain results in disparate levels of sunlight at different elevations, which makes Lamorinda suitable for both cool- and warm-climate varietals. 
  • Lamorinda contains steeper and more rugged terrain than areas to the south and west and lower and flatter plains than areas to the north and east. Lamorinda also appears to be more suburban, which contrasts to the urban areas to the east and west.
  • The dominant geological formation in Lamorinda is the Orinda Formation, which attributes the clay-rich soils.
  • Climate in the Lamorinda AVA is warmer than that of surrounding areas. 

The proposed rule was published by TTB in the Federal Register on April 14, 2015 and received a total of 12 comments. All 12 comments were in support of establishing this proposed AVA, and many comments emphasized the strong community awareness and support in the establishment of the Lamorinda AVA. See comments here

Establishing new AVAs is just one of the many authorities of TTB. 27 CFR Part 4 empowers TTB to create and establish viticultural areas, as well as regulate the use of their names as appellations of origin. 27 CFR Part 9 talks specifically about the process required to establish new AVAs, such as the preparation and submissions of petitions for establishing new or modifying current AVAs.

For more information on wine or alcohol law, AVAs, or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Which Came First: The Trademark or the Viticultural Area?

Last week, San Antonio Express News reported that a California-based winery named San Antonio Winery brought a trademark suit against a San Lara Vineyards Blanco de San AntonioAntonio-based winery called Lara Vineyard. In its complaint, San Antonio Winery alleged that Lara Vineyard’s use of the term “San Antonio” as a fanciful name on its labels infringed upon the California winery’s mark. San Antonio Winery has been in business since 1917 and is the owner of the U.S. Trademark Registration for a stylized design mark for the words “San Antonio” for use in connection with wine, the word mark registration for “San Antonio” in connection with wine, as well as several other related marks. The California-based winery has a number of wines containing the name “San Antonio,” such as San Antonio Winery Dessert and San Antonio California Champagne, which the complaint alleges are used in commerce.

In July, TTB approved Certificate of Exemptions for two labels belonging to Lara Vineyard that contain the words “San Antonio,” specifically Blanco Dulce de San Antonio and Blanco de San Antonio. The TTB Certificate of Exemptions indicate that the applicant used the fanciful names “Blanco Dulce de San Antonio” and “Blanco de San Antonio” on the label exemption application. When one examines the actual back label, San Antonio is highlighted as the place of production and bottling. Further, the label also clarifies that the wine is for sale in the state of Texas only. (What is also interesting to note is that the complaint alleges the Lara Vineyard obtained “TTB label approval” with respect to its Blanco Dulce de San Antonio and Blanco de San Antonio wines, but in actuality, Lara Vineyard does not have a Certificate of Label Approval for either of these products because the winery applied for, and was granted, a Certificate of Exemption from TTB due to the fact that Lara Vineyard is currently only selling its wine in the state of Texas. A minor detail, but still important nonetheless.)

According to the complaint, San Antonio Winery was not at issue with Lara Vineyard’s use of the term “San Antonio” with respect to the wine’s geographic origin, i.e., as the appellation. Instead, San Antonio expressed concern over Lara Vineyard’s fanciful names Blanco Dulce de San Antonio and Blanco de San Antonio. Specifically, the California winery alleges in its complaint that Lara Vineyard’s use of “San Antonio” in the fanciful name “will cause consumers to believe that Lara Vineyard’s wines come from San Antonio [Winery] or that Lara Vineyard’s wine is affiliated with, connected with or sponsored or licensed by San Antonio [Winery] and that use of the term SAN ANTONIO in a fanciful name, as a trademark, or part of a trademark in connection with the sale or offer for sale of wine constitutes an infringement of San Antonio [Winery]‘s federal trademark rights.” See  Civil Action No. S:16-cv-S3. As a result, the Winery claims that Lara’s use of the San Antonio fanciful name constitutes unfair competition under any federal or state trademark or unfair competition laws.

According to San Antonio Express News, Lara Vineyard willingly changed the name on its labels to read “Blanco de San Antonio, Texas,” and “Blanco de Dulce de San Antonio, Texas,” but even though the vineyard took such measures, San Antonio Winery still filed a suit in federal court. 

What is interesting to consider is that San Antonio Winery obtained its first USPTO trademark with respect to “San Antonio” and wine in 1933. The very first American Viticultural Area was not approved (federally) until 1980. Even though this particular case does not call into question the use of San Antonio as a place of geographic origin, and even though it is not an American Viticultural Area, it is still interesting to consider how a trademark approval containing a geographically significant name may come into play in this particular case, especially when the trademark was obtained prior to the development of the American Viticultural Area system or a formal U.S. appellation of origin system. For example, there is no doubt that California-based San Antonio Winery has obtained federal trademark rights to the term “San Antonio” with respect to wine. However, will this factor in with respect to the use of the term San Antonio by a winery actually located in San Antonio? How will this court divide the ground between trademarks and geographically significant names, or will it? 

The original complaint was filed in the United States District Court Western District of Texas San Antonio Division as Civil Action No. S:16-cv-S3

For more information on wine or alcohol law, or trademarks, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Expanded Definition of Hard Cider for Taxation Purposes

On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (“the PATH Act”) into law. The PATH Act contains changes to certain statutory provisions which are administered by TTB, including applicable sections of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) which apply to alcohol beverages. In particular, the modifications under the PATH Act expand the definition of “hard cider” for taxation purposes. Section 335 of the PATH Act alters the definition of wine that is eligible for hard cider excise tax rates (which are lower than other wine tax classes, as per TTB’s current Tax and Fee Rates). 

Currently, for taxation purposes only, “hard cider” is defined as the following:

[A] still wine derived primarily from apples or apple concentrate and water, containing no other fruit product, and containing at least one-half of 1 percent and less than 7 percent alcohol by volume, 22.6 cents per wine gallon.

26 U.S.C. 5041(b)(6). Still wines are further classified as “wines containing not more than 0.392 gram of carbon dioxide per hundred milliliters of wine . . . .” 26 U.S.C. 5041(a). This means, to meet the current “hard cider” definition for taxation purposes, a product must be a still wine (i.e., not more than 0.392 gram of carbon dioxide per hundred milliliters of wine), derived primarily from apples or apple concentrate and water (containing no other fruit product as the cider base), and have an alcohol by volume of at least 0.05% alcohol by volume and less than 7.0% alcohol by volume. 

The PATH Act revises the definition of “hard cider” for taxation purposes to extend the carbonation level from 0.392 gram of carbon dioxide per hundred milliliters of wine to be 0.64 gram; increases the allowable alcohol by volume content from less than 7% alcohol by volume to less than 8.5% alcohol by volume; and authorizes the use of pear, pear juice, and pear products and flavoring in the definition of “hard cider” (again, all for taxation purposes). Such changes apply to hard cider removed from bond after December 31, 2016, and the above mentioned changes will go into effect in 2017. See IRC Amendments Affecting Excise Tax Due Dates and Bond Requirements for Eligible Taxpayers and Revision of Hard Cider Definition.

Keep in mind that the above changes do not modify the federal definition of “hard cider” with respect to TTB labeling, permits, or advertising (which apply to ciders at or above 7% alcohol by volume). Note that ciders under 7% alcohol by volume fall within the labeling jurisdiction of the FDA and are (generally speaking) subject to different requirements. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, excise taxes, hard cider, or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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On January 21, 2016, TTB published a notice in the Federal Register proposing the establishment of the Willcox Viticultural Area,  which is located in portions of Graham and Cochise Counties in Arizona (but is not currently located within, nor does it contain, any other established American Viticultural Area). The proposed Viticultural Area contains 526,000 acres in southeast Arizona and currently includes about 21 commercial vineyards (which cover about 454 acres, with an additional 650 acres to be planned in the upcoming year) and 18 bonded wineries. According to the notice published by TTB, comments are accepted through March 21, 2016. The petition was filed by Paul S. Hagar, the special projects manager of Dragoon Mountain Vineyard, on behalf of Dragoon Mountain Vineyard and other vineyards and wineries. 

The petition alleges the following:

  • Name Evidence: The Wilcox AVA derives its name from the city of Wilcox, which is said to contain the Willcox Playa, the dry bed of an ancient lake. The petitioner submitted evidence that 26 businesses and organizations within the city use the city name “Wilcox” in some portion of their own names, inclusive of an organization called Willcox Wine Country (established to, nonetheless, promote the local wine industry). 
  • Boundary Evidence: The proposed AVA is described as having a high altitude valley that resembles a shallow basin, which is separated by neighboring valleys by mountain ranges. Further descriptors in the notice go on to describe more specific boundaries.
  • Distinguishing Features: Distinguishing features are said to include the AVA’s geology, topography, soils, and climate. While the notice goes into further (and much more interesting details) about the proposed AVA’s distinguishing features, petitioner has pointed out that a noteworthy quality of the proposed AVA is that the area’s viticulture is impacted by its geologic history.

On January 21st, TTB also published a final rule establishing a new AVA: The Los Olivos District Viticultural Area. The final rule establishes this new AVA in Santa Barbara County, California and is located within the Santa Ynez Valley viticultural area and the larger, multicounty Central Coast
viticultural area. The final rule goes into effect on February 22, 2016. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, AVAs, or TTB matters, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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The Importance of Grape Varieties on American Wine Labels

Using a grape variety on an American wine label is not mandatory, but many winemakers choose to do so for several reasons, such as perception of quality to the consumer. Using or naming the variety on the wine label may also convey a better story about what is in the bottle. 

There are a number of federal regulations that govern grape varieties, ranging from the percentage of grapes that must be used in a wine to what specific varieties can be used on an American wine label. This article discusses some of the regulatory concerns on using grape varieties in American wines. 

TTB regulations require a wine label have a class/type designation, including (but not limited to) “Red Wine,” “Red Table Wine,” “White Wine,” or “Rosé Wine.” Instead of using these terms as the type designation on a wine label, the grape variety can actually function as the wine’s type designation when the variety is named on the label. A single variety can be used as the type designation if not less than 75% of the wine in the container derived from the grapes of the variety (with some exceptions, such as Vitis labrusca varieties). 27 CFR 4.23(b). Further, the wine must be labeled with an appellation of origin and the entire 75% of the grapes must have been grown within the appellation. 27 CFR 4.23(a)–(b).

Two or more varieties can be listed on the label and used as the type designation, but the wine must meet several requirements. First, all grapes used to make the wine must be of the labeled varieties. 27 CFR 4.23(d)(1). Second, the percentage of the wine derived from each variety must be shown (i.e., adding up to 100%, with a tolerance of plus or minus 2%).  27 CFR 4.23(d)(2). Third, if the wine is labeled with a multicounty or multistate appellation of origin, the percentage of wine derived from each variety from each county or state, respectively, must be shown on the label.  27 CFR 4.23(d)(3).

Are there restrictions on what grape varieties American wines can use as their type designation? Yes, absolutely. TTB requires that a grape variety be approved by the Agency’s Administrator if it is to be used as a type designation on a wine label.  27 CFR 4.23(e). Currently, a list of approved varieties that can be used on American wine labels appears in 27 CFR 4.91. Some of the approved varieties include, but are certainly not limited to, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Lambrusco, Petit Verdot, Syrah (Shiraz), and Vidal Blanc. 

All of that seems straightforward for grape varieties listed on TTB’s list of approved grape varieties, but what happens when a winemaker or vintner wants to use a variety on a label that is not listed as an approved variety? Well, that changes the process significantly. A non-approved variety cannot be used as a type designation on an American wine label. 

But that is not necessarily the end. If a winemaker wants to use a non-approved variety as the type designation, they can petition to TTB for the approval of the grape variety name. 27 CFR 4.93 allows an interested party to petition to TTB and requires the petitioner to show evidence that: (1) the grape variety is accepted; (2) the name for identifying the grape variety is valid; (3) the variety is used or will be used in winemaking; and (4) the variety is grown and used in the United States. Despite submitting such evidence, 27 CFR 4.93(c) maintains that the Administrator will not approve the grape variety name if: the name (1) has been previously used for a different grape variety; (2) contains a term or name found to be misleading; or (3) the name contains the term “Riesling.” 

Documentation submitted to TTB by way of a petition can include a reference to a publication of the name of the variety in a scientific or professional journal of horticulture or published by a professional, scientific winegrowers’ organization; reference to a plant patent; and information outlining the commercial potential of the variety (e.g., acreage planted and its location or market studies). In the past, to show commercial potential of the variety, petitions have included information on the disease resistance of the proposed variety, its budding and ripening patterns, the suitability of the variety in particular climates or for regions with shorter or longer growing seasons, the pH and brix of the variety, whether the variety is easy to graft, and the vigorousness of the variety. Petitions have also included information from respected publications, such as The Oxford Companion to Wine

After a petition is submitted to and reviewed by TTB, the agency will issue an administrative approval if the grape variety is approved. Effectively, this means that TTB will approve labels that use the grape variety name, but such approvals are valid for labels used in the U.S. market and do not imply that such names are acceptable in other countries. Further, after issuing its administrative approval, TTB will propose rulemaking by publishing a notice in the Federal Register to add the grape variety name to the list of approved grape variety names that appear in 27 CFR 4.91.  This process invites the public to comment on whether the administratively approved grape variety should be recognized as an approved grape variety in 27 CFR 4.91.  Public comment may or may not influence the agency to approve the variety. An interesting point to consider is TTB may ask for public comment on varieties whose petitions the Agency denied. 

After completing the rulemaking process, should the Agency decide for any reason not to add the grape name to the approved list, any final rulemaking action will supersede its administrative approval. 

The above outlines the process for gaining administrative approval of a new grape variety. One of my most recent tasks was to assist a client with obtaining TTB approval of a grape variety for use on American wines by submitting a petition to TTB. The process was a great reminder of TTB’s administrative procedures, and was also a good way to put both law and industry knowledge to work. 

For more information on wine or alcohol law, or submitting a varietal petition to TTB, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Empire Wine Bills Delivered to Governor Cuomo

A5920 delivered Governor CuomoOn November 30, 2015, the two talked about bills, A05920 and S04446, in New York’s Assembly and Senate were delivered to Governor Cuomo. A05920 was introduced to the Assembly in March of this year by Assemblyman Phil Steck and proposes to amend New York State’s alcohol beverage laws.  See Bill Supports Empire Wine SalesBill Would Curb SLA’s Power Over Out-Of-State Wine Shipments. The bill will reportedly stop the NYSLA from revoking licenses of an in-state alcohol business if the business violated the law of another state. Id. A05920 was passed by the Assembly in June and its sister bill, S04446, was passed by the Senate one day later. See Empire Wine Bill Passes in New York Assembly and Empire Wine Bill Passes in New York State Senate. Since June, the bills have been waiting to reach the Governor’s desk in hopes of being signed into law. 

For more information on the origin of the bills, see Bill Introduced to New York State Assembly Supports Empire Wine.

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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The NYSLA announced on its website that the second industry working group meeting will take place on December 8, 2015. The group will continue to consider changes or modifications to New York’s alcohol beverage laws. The first meeting devised a list of significant issues relating to New York’s alcohol beverage laws, which can be read about in a prior entry of On Reserve here. The webcast from the first industry working group meeting can be listened to here

The upcoming meeting will take place on December 8, 2015 at 10:30 AM in the New York City office’s full board room, and will be available via video conference at the Buffalo and Albany offices. Parties interested in attending are asked to e-mail the NYSLA, who can be reached at  RSVP@sla.ny.gov, by December 6th to reserve a seat.

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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It is truly an honor to share that On Reserve was named one of the top 100 legal blogs or “blawgs” of 2015 by the American Bar Association Journal (ABA Journal). This is the second year that On Reserve received this honor from the ABA Journal, and I am incredibly proud to share this great news. From the ABA directly:

For this year’s annual Blawg 100 feature—our ninth—we’re going beyond announcing our list of 100 excellent legal blogs and the promotion of 10 more blogs to our Hall of Fame. We explore how the legal blogosphere has changed since we first started publishing this list. Do legal blogs have a waning or a thriving readership? And how has the emergence of new bloggers from BigLaw and elsewhere and other social media platforms in recent years changed blogging for the better—or worse?

As in years past, we looked to readers and bloggers to help us compile our list. But this year, no blogs are being forced into categories, and there will be no online voting. Read below to find out more about the blogs on our list, and click here to find our Blawg 100 Twitter list, which includes both the handles of our Hall of Famers and this year’s nominees.

Thank you to all of those who continue to make the wine world (and the wine law world) stimulating and worth writing about. This last year has been an incredible year in the wine industry to write about, and I certainly hope the next year will only prove better. 

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Last Thursday I attended the first open meeting of Governor Cuomo’s new alcohol beverage industry working group. The group, whose main mission is to modernize New York’s alcohol beverage laws by reviewing current statutory provisions, spent the entire meeting identifying a list of issues for further discussion and/or consideration. 

The first eighteen issues, below, were initially brought up by the New York State Liquor Authority (“NYSLA”). Members of the working group were allowed to comment about whether the issues should be considered for further discussion or tabled (for a variety of reasons, with respect to this working group).

  1. A general reorganization of New York’s alcohol beverage laws.
  2. Consolidation of licenses—for example, eight different on premise licenses currently exist. Is there a way to consolidate the types of licenses available without taking rights away from current or potential licensees?
  3. Should the 500 foot rule be incorporated in the statute? Further, what is “good cause”? Should its definition be left to case law and the Authority’s interpretations of decisions?
  4. Tied house laws—while the group on Thursday agreed that the state’s tied house laws are important, many conflicting opinions existed in regard to whether the laws should be further examined by the group and potentially modernized. As a result, the Authority decided to table this particular issue, with respect to this working group.
  5. Brand owners in New York—should there be a separate state license available for brand owners in New York who want to sell their alcohol beverage product to New York-licensed wholesalers? As acknowledged by the group, the state wholesale license often impractical for industry members who own one or two brands and only want to sell their product to wholesalers.
  6. Primary source laws—Should New York have a primary source law? As many industry members fight back against counterfeit goods in the marketplace, does it make sense for the state to consider adapting primary source laws that are found in the laws of a handful of other states? A strong concern presented by one member was that primary source laws may drive the cost of sale up.
  7. Is there a need for a solicitor’s permit (on either the manufacturer or wholesaler side, to be analyzed individually)?
  8. Hours of sale—(1) Should there be a change in Sunday hours? (2) Can towns and cities be allowed to determine hours? (The latter was tabled with respect to this working group.)
  9. With respect to the 200 foot rule, should the NYSLA have discretion when there is no objection (i.e., when an applicant is not within the restrictions of the rule and interested parties do not object)?
  10. Family pricing—should volume discounting be allowed with respect to mixing and matching products of different sizes? (This group stated there was no point in pursuing this discussion at this time.)
  11. Should there be one generic wholesale license?
  12. Manufacturers—currently, several licenses, each providing the licensee with different types of rights or privileges, can be obtained for the same location. Does it make sense to have one license that will cover these rights and privileges?
  13. Co-op buying—should different licensees (package stores) be allowed to take advantage of discount pricing? (I  believe this was tabled.)
  14. Price posting—should there be a change in deadlines for manufacturers and/or wholesalers with respect to price posting?
  15. Qualified convictions—should misdemeanors and felonies have to be disclosed when completing an application, or just felonies?
  16. Certificate of relief and good conduct—how should out-of-state applicants be handled with respect to this requirement? (i.e., as discussed last week, currently out-of-state applicants cannot obtain such certificates if they are not New York residents.)
  17. Should industry members be able to pay wholesalers by credit card? (This issue was also tabled by the group.)
  18. Growlers—should wineries be allowed to sell growlers?

The remaining issues were brought up by working group members, as well as the large group of public attendees. Several issues were either removed or tabled because they were considered to be policy or administrative, i.e., not statutory.

  1. Can the laws make parody between farm distillers, wineries, and breweries? For example, farm wineries, breweries, and cideries in New York can open up to five branch offices within the state, but farm distilleries are only allowed one.
  2. Should there be legislation regarding out-of-state retailers who ship into New York without a license? Should these retailers be fined and/or subject to New York’s jurisdiction?
  3. COD (electronic system notifying wholesalers of delinquent retailers)—should there be a 10-day grace period? Issue is that many retailers are accidentally placed on this list and it automatically notifies every wholesaler that they are on COD. (Tabled.)
  4. Wine Product versus Wine in grocery stores—the sale of wine in groceries stores is illegal in New York. Grocery stores can only sell “wine products,” which are generally wines that do not contain more than 6% ABV and further meet NY’s definition of “wine product” (e.g., added juice, flavoring, water, citric acid, sugar and carbon dioxide). But some grocery stores advertise selling “wine” in flyers and in specific sections in the store. This causes confusion among industry and consumers. Should the brand label approval process for these products change? (Unclear where the group came out on this issues.)
  5. Ancillary businesses in New York (specifically in regard to temporary wine and beer permits, e.g., beer festivals)—because New York’s law allows temporary permitees to purchase the commodity from a wholesaler, individual will still purchase a supplier’s brand and misrepresent the brand even if the brand has chosen not to participate in the festival. How should the law deal with this issue?
  6. Tap handle deposit—how should this be handled?
  7. Should the license fee for New York City-licensed retailers be reduced?
  8. Should the marketing permit be codified within licenses?
  9. Should multiple wine brands (i.e., from different wineries) be allowed to be directly shipped to consumers?
  10. How should industry members’ online presence be regulated? Further, how should third party vendors, most of whom are not licensed with the NYSLA, be regulated?

The first working group meeting concentrated on identifying statutory issues for which there was a consensus to discuss at future group meetings. Although several of the above issues were identified as important and relevant, some of the issues were tabled because there were controversial opinions as to whether a further discussion was necessary. In other instances, there was a consensus that topics were not worth pursuing. That being said, many of the issues are still open for discussion, and the progress will be interesting considering the group’s aim to provide recommendations to legislature by January 2016.

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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Last week, as reported by the Times Union, a decision by Acting Supreme Court Justice Debra Young ruled against the New York State Liquor Authority (“NYSLA”) with respect to an ongoing legal battle with Colonie-based retailer Empire Wine. See In Empire Wine Case, SLA Must Release Communications With Illinois Officials. Empire originally sought production of the NYSLA’s communications with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, documents that the NYSLA argued were attorney work product or were otherwise exempted from disclosure requirements because such communications were part of an ongoing investigation or judicial proceeding. These types of communications are exempted from disclosure under New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Id. Additionally, the judge rejected the Authority’s arguments that such communications were interagency communications, which are exempted from disclosure under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, reasoning that the Illinois Liquor Control Commission is not an entity of the New York State government. Finally, Young ordered the NYSLA to disclose communications and records the Authority had with UPS in regard to the interstate shipment of alcohol. The index number for the October 28, 2015 decision is 003656/2015.

Interestingly, hardly two weeks later, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of an industry working group which aims to recommend revisions to New York State’s alcohol beverage laws and regulations. See Governor Cuomo Announces New Industry Working Group to Modernize New York Alcohol Laws. In particular, the group “will review existing statutory provisions and explore approaches to clarify and modernize the 80-year-old statute.” Id. The Governor’s website cites the third annual Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Cider Summit as the originator of this new working group and further emphasizes that the group will focus on reorganizing or replacing the state’s current laws governing alcohol beverages including: (1) removing outdated and redundant provisions; (2) modernizing statutory language; (3) improving and consolidating various licensing provisions; (4) clarifying the types of licenses available; (5) reducing mandatory paperwork; and (6) eliminating unnecessary restrictions imposed on manufacturers. Id.  The working group will hold an opening meeting on November 12, 2015 at 1:00 pm at the State Liquor Authority’s office in Harlem. More information is available here

In the last few years, the Governor—and many other industry players—has made a strong effort to improve the state’s beverage industry, as well as eliminate many regulatory hurdles and create opportunities and incentives to attract new industry members. A few noteworthy changes are the tax law amendment and the Craft New York Act. While the state’s industry has improved drastically in the last ten or fifteen years, industry can still benefit from changes (and modernization) in legislation and regulations. The meeting on Thursday is a noble effort to bring together respected industry members from all tiers, along with regulators, to resolve some of New York’s most pressing regulatory issues in the beverage industry. 

For more information on New York State wine or alcohol law, or establishing a winery, brewery, or distillery in New York, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

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