California ABC and TTB Provide Guidance to Wineries on Virtual Tastings

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Pillsbury - Internet & Social Media Law Blog

As many of us venture into our third month of sheltering in place, businesses have been forced to be creative in their operations despite the many restrictions. Wineries are no exception. In the past several weeks, there has been a proliferation of “virtual” wine tastings via remote videoconferencing and social media platforms, and it seems every major winery player is offering one. Virtual wine tasting allows consumers to try new wines from the comfort of their own home as winery experts explain the tasting notes, winemaking process, favorite pairings and answer questions, all in full compliance with the social distancing orders.

The traditional manner of wine tasting only allows a properly licensed winery to provide free tastes of its wines to consumers on its premises. The tastes must be limited in size (one ounce) and must be consumed on the licensed premises. Since COVID-19, in an effort to ease the negative economic impact to wineries during the business disruption, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) have provided some temporary relief from compliance and issued written guidance on the topic to help facilitate virtual wine tastings online.

For example, while tastes still cannot be given free to consumers off the licensed premises, small tastes can now be shipped to the consumer for virtual wine tasting if included as part of a sale of wine or other products to the consumer (subject to taxes and all other requirements of DTC shipments in each state). Small tastes may also be sold individually, without the sale of other wine or products. Under the temporary guidelines, the Department waived the one-ounce volume restriction for “free tastes,” since the tastes either must accompany another purchase or be paid for directly. Any containers in which the tastes are sent must meet the federal regulatory guidelines for both labeling and standards of fill and any applicable state labeling regulations. Acceptable standards of fill for wine under federal law include the following: 3 Liters, 1.5 Liters, 1 Liter, 750ml, 50ml, 375ml, 187ml, 100ml (3.4 fl. oz.) and 50ml (1.7 fl. oz). The ABC is temporarily allowing free shipment of wine to consumers, including samples for virtual wine tastings, during the COVID-19 crisis. (The ABC notes that any sale and shipment of wine, including small tastes, to consumers outside of California, will need to comply with the laws of the applicable state to which the wines will be shipped.)

In response to an inquiry by Wine Institute, TTB provided further guidance regarding the requirements for providing small tastes to consumers for virtual tastings.

It is not clear whether the popularity of virtual wine tastings will continue in the post-COVID-19 world. However, given the easy access and reasonable price points—all without the costs of travel—one would expect such tastings to endure. So, raise your glass and let’s give a toast to fine wine and technology!

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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