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Washington OK for wine law modernisation

New legislation signed by Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington state will go a long way to help improve, modernise and streamline the state’s complicated laws and regulations impacting the state's burgeoning wine industry, says the Washington Wine Institute. James Graham reports

“We had a very busy, but successful and productive agenda in 2009,” says Jean Leonard, executive director. “Most of the liquor laws were adopted long before Washington’s wine industry existed. It's taken a dedicated effort over many years by the Institute and our members, as well as other stakeholders and legislators, to change these laws in positive ways that address the industry’s current needs.”

Leonard said the new laws, which come into effect on July 26, will significantly revise the state’s current liquor control system by addressing many "wine pricing" issues raised by the Costco litigation. The newly enacted legislation will help eliminate barriers to market, such as archaic "post and hold" requirements, mandatory minimum mark-up, and some issues regarding extension of credit. New laws also repeal some provisions that were adopted after prohibition to inhibit marketing of alcohol, Leonard added.

Institute president Marty Clubb of L'Ecole No. 41 Winery said the new legislation will provide increased opportunities for wine promotion and marketing as well as investments between wineries and retailers. These changes ultimately will have a positive impact on consumers, Clubb said.

"Washington already has some of the most progressive laws on direct-to-consumer and retail sales," Clubb said. "Now our wineries will have some of the broadest privileges available to wineries anywhere in the country."
As in past years, the Institute worked closely with the Legislature, the Governor's office, the Liquor Control Board and other relevant stakeholders to make the laws work for the industry.

Lorraine Lee, chairman of the state's Liquor Control Board, said the new legislation demonstrates a "watershed change" that is "progressive and forward thinking" for the industry. She said the new approach strives for "simplification, modernisation and flexibility in our liquor laws," but reinforced that the Liquor Control Board believes it can reach these goals without sacrificing the agency's top priority, public safety.

Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, echoed that statement, saying that the Institute has worked carefully and strategically for changes to liquor law that enable Washington wineries of all shapes and sizes to grow and prosper while still supporting laws prohibiting dangerous or underage drinking.

The Institute also supported legislation requiring wines labelled "Washington" to contain 95 percent of Washington-grown grapes.

"With more than 600 wineries all across the state, the wine industry is a major contributor to Washington's economy," said Dan Newhouse, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. "While we may not be the largest volume producer in the country, it's our commitment to quality that makes us competitive. When consumers see Washington on the label, they know they are getting an excellent product made by skilled vintners from some of the finest grapes available."

1 May 2009 - James Graham