Wine Policy Day Shot Down by Shutdown

WineAmerica's pilot program largely postponed

by Jane Firstenfeld
wine policy day
Volunteers plant grapevines at the future site of Pairings, a new wine education facility in Geneva, Ohio, that has had its plans scaled down due to Congress' failure to pass the Farm Bill. The state also canceled its plans for Wine Policy Day, as the federal government shutdown has meant members of Congress will not be returning home for the Oct. 12-20 break.
Washington, D.C.—An innovative new program coordinated by WineAmerica, the national association of American wineries, has become another casualty of the federal government’s ongoing shutdown, Wines & Vines learned today.

Billed as “Grassroots outreach to lawmakers in-district” during the traditional congressional recess Oct. 12-20,” three of the four states that had enlisted dropped out or changed plans. Only Arizona is going forward with scaled-down programs aimed at senior congressional staffers. 

The brainchild of Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association (MWA), WineAmerica’s Wine Policy Day was crafted in an effort to inform federal legislators about wine industry concerns. Although participation was sparse this year, WineAmerica had hoped to grow it to 25 or more states in the next year or two, said Michael Kaiser, WineAmerica’s director of communications and regulatory affairs.

“Harvest is a busy time, but all the activity around the wineries makes it the perfect time to tell our stories” Atticks explained in a news release from WineAmerica. This year, though, with the House of Representatives still in session this Saturday, and resumption of a normal schedule in D.C. nebulous, the timing for Wine Policy day in the home states was not optimal.

No rest for the wine industry
The Ohio Wine Producers Association had planned three regional roundtables where winemakers could share their stories with their representatives. The group’s executive director, Donniella Winchell, said the association used WineAmerica’s legislative white paper to figure out what to do, identify a schedule and begin a conversation with the legislators. They started by providing backgrounders to congressional aides, and setting the schedule.

Eventually, though, they received apologies from the hoped-for guests of honor and promises for future events. “It opened a door for us,” Winchell said.

The exercise was also helpful from an industry perspective, she said. “Some wineries are only tangentially aware of the greater issues; this sharpened their perspectives and brought to the top of their mind issues that might seem distant. It helped to educate them on the importance of a national perspective.”

Winchell, who helped prepare the guide to Wine Policy day as part of WineAmerica’s State Associations Council, promised to be very supportive of ongoing efforts to get the dialogue started. The association now is preparing a new economic impact study to reflect wine industry growth since 2008, including an increase from 124 to 190 wineries.

The Geneva, Ohio-based Winchell commented, “Our tri-county area provides 600 jobs. Last year, just 20 wineries spent $3 million on musicians alone.”

Under the direction of Atticks, a professor of publications design and public relations, the Maryland Wineries Association works every year with the state legislature, holding advocacy days in Annapolis, Md., and at wineries.

“These are akin to what we are planning to launch at the federal level,” Atticks said. “We want to make sure that all elective officials understand that this industry is a driver of agriculture, tourism, land preservation and tax revenue. All our legislators must be aware that every district has someone growing, making or selling wine.”

In Maryland next week, the all-important Economic Matters Committee will visit a winery in the western part of the state. “This will have so much impact,” Atticks said hopefully.

The Arizona Winegrowers Association had issued invitations to its Congressional delegation to participate in events in the state’s three major winegrowing regions: Cochise, Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties.

Executive director Patti King told Wines & Vines that the meetings were scheduled to coincide with widely attended public events, where lawmakers could address their constituencies and meet with wineries. Despite the shutdown, at least one congressman’s senior staff plans attend one of the events.

How-to tips for meeting lawmakers
With the help of seasoned members from its State Associations Council, including Winchell and Atticks, WineAmerica assembled a handbook of do’s and don’ts for participants in Wine Policy Day. The practical guide would be useful for any winemaker (or anyone) who’d like their lawmakers really to hear their concerns.

“Educate your legislator. Build long-term relationships. Personal interactions go further than professional lobbyists,” it advises.

The workbook targets the wine industry’s major national issues—the Immigration Reform Bill and the Farm Bill—and specifies influential committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Natural Resources, Judiciary.

Who’s on the guest list?
• Members of Congress and staff
• Local delegates and representatives
• Secretary of agriculture and staff
• Like-minded leaders of the community (chambers of commerce, etc.)
• State/county tourism office
• Your local wine association

“Focus on freshman legislators; start with representatives from wine growing or winemaking districts. Be careful about inviting legislators from different political parties to the same event. In larger states, look at who is on committees important to wine industry,” the guide advises.

What’s on the menu?
•  Legislator and community leader “meet and greet”
• Tour of grounds and facilities, wine tasting, photo opportunities
• An award presentation or ribbon-cutting
• Do take photos
• Do know your No. 1 “ask”
• Do ask how the winery can support their efforts to represent the industry
• Do talk about sustainability efforts (if applicable)
• Do give the legislator a moment to speak
• Do send a thank-you note with a business card attached
• Do get on their email list
• Do follow-up with pertinent questions
• Do send photos for their website and/or campaigns
• Don’t be partisan. Keep it about wine. Minimize talk about campaign issues.

Copies of the workbook are available to members of WineAmerica.


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