American Wine Consumer Coalition: Finding A Voice for Consumers

When I received the American Wine Consumer Coalition (AWCC) press release announcing the formation of the non-profit 501(c)4 organization to represent consumer interests with Texas as a priority state, I was excited.  If you’ve tried to have an out of state winery or retailer ship directly, you’ve encountered a maze of ridiculous red tape and inconsistent responses. As a blogger, I’ve been told that I cannot receive samples from states like New York because it is against the law.

Why?  In my opinion, it is due to the staggering amount of money that alcohol industry lobbying groups spend to make sure we can’t.  According to Follow the money, the beer, wine, and liquor industry contributed $39 million to candidates and committees in 2010, $15.6 million in 2011, and $8.7 million to date in 2012.In about a five minute search, you can find that in 2009-2010, the year leading up to a very important vote on bill HR-1161 (more to come about the bill) that a combined $1,058,780 was donated (not including PACs) within the Beer, Wine and Liquor category to a group of senators and representatives just in three categories – wine & distilled spirits, liquor stores and liquor wholesalers.  Check out this link to do your own research, but clearly it becomes clear the consumer’s best interests are not being represented by lawmakers and the alcohol industry.

Today it is illegal in Texas for wine consumers to have any imported wine shipped to your home because Texas bans shipments from out of state wine retailers.  This applies to wines shipped from auction house and wine clubs.

I had a chance to sit down with Tom Wark, executive director of the AWCC, who has had an esteemed career in the wine industry as a wine marketer, consumer advocate and editor of Fermentation wine blog for a Q&A session.

Why did you establish the AWCC?

It was due to the frustration of consumer interests being ignored by the people that are supposed to represent them.  States were revising their laws concerning access to wine, beer and spirits and consumers had no voice.  The new laws and regulations being passed left the consumers out of the equation and leaned strongly toward the interests of the alcohol beverage trade. 

Why do you think wine drinkers haven’t had their own organization prior?

Two things happened in the past few years — interest in wine has boomed as consumers gained access to better wines and direct shipping occurred.

Did you do this because of the former HR1161 bill?

It was shocking to me that when HR1161 was being considered – a bill that would take away consumer rights – and not a single consumer was asked to testify during two separate hearings.   There was no group to represent the consumer voice and that’s where AWCC comes in.

What do you feel are the biggest hurdles?

Awareness and funding.  The alcohol beverage trade has very deep pockets.  But we have a great opportunity to become the voice for the consumer and we believe people will rally around us.

Are there certain states you are going to prioritize?

We are initially targeting Texas, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland.  Texas is a huge state with many active wine drinkers who are not allowed to ship imported wines.  If Texas citizens are allowed to purchase out of state wines, there are millions in tax revenues the state would realize.

What issues will you tackle first?

Legal consumer access to wine via direct shipment, grocery store wine sales and privatization efforts to take the government out of the business of selling wine.

How can DWC readers get involved?

They can join AWCC for $35 at website.

Note: it took me about 30 seconds to become a member.

And finally, I checked out the AWCC website to find out statistics about how archaic our wine laws are nationwide today:

• 11 states still ban their residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state wineries;

• 36 states still ban their residents from having wine shipped to them from out of state retailers;

• 17 states still ban its residents from buying wine in grocery stores;

• 4 states ban the purchase of wine on Sundays;

• 2 states control the sale of wine, rather than allowing its residents to buy their wine in a free and open marketplace; and,

• 15 states ban their residents from bringing a bottle from home into a restaurant.

Based on the ridiculousness going on in our current legislature, I don’t have faith the best interests of wine consumers will be considered.  Don’t you want to support a group that is laser focused on changing a system that has all the cards stacked against us?