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Panel Seeks to Simplify Interstate Sales


A national task force on the wine industry last week considered various rule changes that would make uniform the laws to simplify the sale of wine from state to state.

The aim of the Task Force on the Wine Industry of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is to reduce trade barriers for wine and come up with universal standards that would make selling wine from one state to the next as easy as it is for a U.S. producer to sell wine overseas.

The Task Force includes 33 states who have said they would like to smooth out the trade barriers to wine that are permitted under the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

California Assemblyman Dominic L. Cortese, chairman of the task force, said NCSL's joint committee (which includes the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, the National Alcohol Beverage Control Assn., and the Federation of Tax Administrators) met to look over proposals that would standardize license applications and reporting forms to eliminate duplication and inconsistencies between state and federal laws.

The task force will meet again later this year to discuss the various proposals.

For one thing, Cortese said, there are two different types of state alcoholic beverage control setups--one for control states (where alcoholic beverages are sold at retail through state stores) and one for license states, where stores are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

"We'd like to see if we can find language and forms that everyone can agree on," said a spokesman for Cortese.

In effect, said Cortese, the present system sets up a scenario where the various states operate like foreign countries with one another in respect to wine sales.

The recommendations attempt to deal with the barriers created in 1933 by passage of the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, when the states were permitted to control the sale of alcoholic beverages.

"Complying with the staggering array of state and federal regulations tests the stamina of every American wine producer," said Cortese (D-San Jose), who is also chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on California Wine Production and Economy.

Since the 21st Amendment told the states they could make their own licensed beverage laws, the federal government would not be involved in much of what the wine task force hopes to accomplish, Cortese said.

The task force, noting that 43 states make wine from the grapes produced by 8,000 grape growers, said the wine industry "is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States.

"As a grower of grapes, the wine producer is subject to all agricultural regulation. As a producer of wine he or she is subject to alcohol regulation at both the federal and state level," said the task force report.

"Each state has its own comprehensive set of regulations. Each state has its own bewildering laws regarding wine, and no two states have the same laws. The federal government has its own comprehensive set of regulations. As a result, wine is one of the few products where interstate sales are spoken of in terms of 'import' and 'export.' "

The trade barriers between the states, said the task force, "are bad for business and employment. They steal the competitive edge and ultimately are bad for the state and national economies . . . ."

The task force urged the adoption of interstate reciprocal shipping agreements to "allow any consumer, winery, or licensee to ship up to two cases of wine to relatives or friends in another state if both states have reciprocity." Such laws already have been passed by California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Oregon and New Mexico and a similar "reciprocity law" is being considered by other states.

The task force further recommended that agreements permit the shipping of wine through the various states like "any package, with no other restrictions or requirements."

The recommendations asked the states to adopt the standards of the uniform labeling requirements of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF).

All labels on alcoholic beverages must be approved by BATF, but in some states these federally approved labels must be submitted back to a state agency for further approval, under varying different regulations. The task force said that instead, the states should simply accept BATF's labeling procedures--standards similar to those required by the European Economic Community.

The states should adopt standardized forms for application and permit systems and eliminate the requirement to notarize forms, said the group. There's no rational reason for vintners to be forced to leave their wineries to drive to the nearest city to find a notary public, they said. "This is a waste of time, effort and money," they said, adding:

"At a time when (Europe) is on the verge of becoming 'one nation' in 1992, the United States is still '50 nations' when it comes to wine . . . . While the Europeans have sought uniformity in their regulation of wine, we have not . . . ."

Wine of the Week

1989 Newlan Napa-Villages ($7)-- The word Villages often appears on Beaujolais Villages, from the French region that produces the lightest, most quaffable red wines of the Burgundy district. Newlan in the Napa Valley has made a Beaujolais-type wine from 80% Pinot Noir and the rest Gamay and Petite Sirah. It is a rich, spicy wine with plenty of raspberry/strawberry fruit, takes a chilling and can be enjoyed with a wide variety of foods.

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