Oregon delegation: U.S. rules threaten wine growlers

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon's congressional delegation says federal liquor regulations threaten to undermine a new state law allowing the sale of wine in re-useable containers known as growlers.

All seven members of the delegation sent a letter Tuesday to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. They ask the agency to reconsider its ruling that retailers filling growlers must comply with the rules that apply to wine bottlers.

They say the requirements for labels, licenses and record-keeping would be burdensome and limit sales of Oregon wines.

Beer is routinely sold in growlers. The state Legislature voted last year to allow similar sales for wine, but federal laws treat beer and wine differently.

KATU talked with customers at NW Growlers on Portland's southwest Macadam avenue.

"It doesn't seem like there should be much of a difference at all," said Ben Rodgers. "They're pretty much the same from an alcoholic content."

"It seems very odd," said Kristin White. "It seems to be very self-serving and not very conducive to the customer in any way."

Jasmine Crandall at Northwest Growlers says the popularity of growlers has outgrown federal regulations.

"It is a big hassle for a place like us," Crandall said. "To have to get a completely different license to sell wine that is coming in kegs that is obviously for serving out of the tap. I don't know. I don't see the difference."

TTB spokesman Tom Hogue says the agency shares the delegation's concerns and is looking at options for addressing them.

Letter to the Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau:

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.