WASHINGTON - All seven members of Oregon's congressional delegation called on the federal government Tuesday to reverse course and respect an Oregon state law that allows consumers to buy wine in refillable containers, often known as "growlers."
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined Reps. Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., in a letter to the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The Oregon delegation asked the bureau to amend its recent decision, which could require wine retailers like restaurants and grocery stores to apply for status as wine bottling houses that would then be required to label and keep records like large-scale wineries. No similar limitations exist for selling beer in growlers.
Oregon has been selling beer and other malt beverages in growlers for years without additional requirements on retailers to acquire bottling licenses. While there are differences in the laws that govern beer and wine sales, consumers widely consider them to be similar products, the lawmakers said.
Last April, the Oregon Legislature unanimously passed and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill that allowed businesses with Oregon liquor licenses to fill and sell growlers of up to two gallons of wine.
In its letter, the delegation wrote that the ruling "threatens to undermine the Oregon legislature's intent and the winemaking industry by requiring retailers such as grocery stores and restaurants, to maintain labels, licenses and records as if they were bottling wine themselves. Such requirements would unnecessarily burden these businesses and limit sales of these fine products."
TTB spokesman Tom Hogue tells The Associated Press that the agency shares the delegation's concerns and is looking at options for addressing them.
In 2012, Oregon was the fourth-largest producer of wine in the country, with more than 900 vineyards and 515 wineries.
The TTB's decision can be found here.
The text of the letter is below:
April 1, 2014
Administrator John J. Manfreda
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1310 G Street Northwest, Box 12
Washington, D.C. 20005
Dear Mr. Manfreda:
As elected representatives from one of America's great wine producing states, we write to you today to convey our concerns regarding the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) Ruling 2014-3 recently issued by your agency. If left to stand, TTB Ruling 2014-3 could undermine Oregon's successful winemaking industry, impacting businesses, communities and jobs. We ask that you immediately take action to reverse this unnecessary and unneeded limitation on Oregon businesses.
Thanks to its ability to grow many excellent specialty agricultural crops, Oregon has long been a leader in the production of high quality beer, wine and ciders and, in fact, Oregon's winemaking legacy predates statehood. According to Oregon's Employment Department, in 2012, there were over 900 vineyards and 515 wineries, making Oregon the #4 state in wine production.
These results were not achieved without lots of hard work and creative thinking. Oregon's landmark land use laws helped to preserve the hills and valleys which are now covered with world renowned vineyards. Moreover winemakers and elected officials worked to reduce market impediments like tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers. In April 2013 the Oregon legislature eliminated another hurdle, when legislators unanimously passed HB 2443 authorizing retail establishments to sell wine by filling customer-owned containers (sometimes called growlers) for consumption at a later time and different location. TTB Ruling 2014-3 threatens to undermine the Oregon legislature's intent and the winemaking industry by requiring retailers such as grocery stores and restaurants, to maintain labels, licenses and records as if they were bottling wine themselves. Such requirements would unnecessarily burden these businesses and limit sales of these fine products.
For years, Oregon has been successfully selling beer and other malt beverages in such containers and TTB has not seen fit to require those retailers to acquire bottling licenses. Mindful of the fact statutes governing beer and wine are not identical, we must nevertheless point out that common sense and consumer sentiments consider them to be similar products, particularly as their distribution is concerned. We are also mindful of TTB's limited capacity and urge you focus the agency's resources on violations which jeopardize the American people's health and safety or represent threats to the public treasury. It is questionable whether pursuing restaurants and grocery stores that are in compliance with state laws meets that test.
Therefore, consistent with your usual practices and policies, we ask that you suspend TTB Ruling 2014-3, and hold it in abeyance while you reconsider the finding.