The Slow Creep Toward Saner Alcohol Policies

Success stories, deregulation, and voter-led changes spell (mostly) good news.


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Westover Winery was a small, family-owned, award-winning producer based in California's Castro Valley. The company drew on a groundbreaking family history of winemaking. Several generations ago, in 1881, an aunt of owner William Westover Smyth had become the first documented woman winemaker in the state.

Despite its size, Westover impressively "produce[d] the greatest variety of ports in the United States," along with sparkling wines and several varietals. They were also a sustainable producer, recycling the great majority (90 percent) of their waste.

Earlier this summer, Westover took home a gold medal and best-in-show award at the Alameda County Wine Competition. But as the summer drew to a close, so too did Westover Winery.

California regulators fined the winemaker $115,000 recently for relying on volunteer workers. The San Jose Mercury News reported Smyth's plight thusly: "the state squeezed him like a late-summer grape."

And just like that, Westover Winery was out of business.

Westover explained that wineries often use volunteers—if you've ever taken part in a grape stomp, then you and your feet have volunteered for a winery—and that he didn't know doing so was illegal.

But to California regulators, ignorance of a stupid and pointless law is no excuse.

In the midst of this terrible news, there's also some good news from the world of beer, wine, and spirits that's worth sharing.

There are the success stories, of which the growth of craft beer tops the list. According to 2013 data crunched by the Brewers Association, which represents craft beer brewers across the country, the outlook for craft beer is bright and getting brighter.

While overall beer sales declined nearly two percent in 2013, craft beer sales were up by more than seventeen percent. Craft beer sales constituted nearly eight percent of the total domestic beer market in 2014. They accounted for more than $14 billion of the $100 billion beer market last year. That represented a twenty-percent growth in beer sales.

Craft beer breweries continue to grow. The town of Saline, Mich., for example, recently approved plans for a new craft brewery there.

And then there are the regulatory victories. Last month, for example, the Richmond, Virginia, city commission repealed a ban that prevented liquor stores and bars from opening on election day. A dry town in New Jersey relaxed its ban, meaning restaurants will now be able to offer wine on their menus. Meanwhile, a town in Alberta, Canada, is moving to reconsider its 100-year-old ban on the sale of liquor.

Elsewhere, Utah regulators are backing off threats to restrict permits for events put on by for-profit companies that serve alcohol. The move comes after the regulators had adopted a new, stricter interpretation of existing rules that nearly derailed a planned Oktoberfest celebration at Snowbird Ski Resort.

And voters are having their say. A special election in Pontotoc, Mississippi, earlier this month saw voters lift the ban on beer sales there. And in November, voters in several Tennessee counties will have the opportunity to repeal a Prohibition-era law that prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores.

As the case of Westover Winery makes clear, the news surrounding beer, wine, and spirits isn't all roses. Even the opportunities and victories I describe above are sometimes deeply flawed. The dry New Jersey town still prohibits liquor and beer. Voters in the dry Mississippi town approved beer sales but rejected liquor sales. And while polls show Tennessee voters support ending the wine ban, the outcome won't be certain until a November vote.

On beer, wine, and liquor issues, the country appears to be creeping toward saner policies. Success stories, deregulation, and voter-led changes are all signs of this trend. But for some—like Westover Winery—change hasn't come fast enough.

NEXT: Tonight on The Independents: 'The Evolution of Terror'

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  1. Tennessee liquor laws are generally stupid.

    1. Liquor laws in the south are generally full retard. BUT, Cullman Co. Al. (i.e., deep south), where my father-in-law lives, recently voted to change its status to “wet” county. This represents a sea change in attitudes of epic proportions there. There’s hope for the south even now.

    2. Unless you’re a distributor, right?

      1. I know, right? But my attitude is a beer glass half full. I lived in Tally for years and the beer scene there (till recently) was atrocious, so ATL is a huge step up.

        I live down the street from Sweetwater Brewery and know a few of the guys that run the place. For them, this issue is one of the next hurdles to jump.

        What do you think of the likelihood of some of the proposals for addressing this?

      2. You hit the nail on the head, Ted. The distributor laws are the biggest hurdle independent breweries face when bringing their product to the masses. Inbev and MillerCoors want to keep the barriers to entry high through their paid politicians so they can keep forcing cheap carbonated piss down the collective American throat.

  2. They were also a sustainable producer,

    Who gives a shit?

    1. Yeah, every time I hear that word now a red flag goes up for me.

      It is another word the progs have appropriated and changed the meaning of. In other words, a deception.

      1. It means they take full advantage of redistributionary tax policies to subsidize their business by installing “green energy” systems to get a tax credit at our expense. Often it means they buy their malt and other ingredients at a premium for no good reason and pass the costs on to the consumer.

        1. Maybe it’s in context of how Cali will even eat their own?

    2. In the upside down world of proggitude NewSpeak, which definitely includes the DemOp Media but which Reason should be very wary of, “sustainable” generally means “unprofitable (without Total State subsidies)”, and unprofitable means, well, unsustainable.

      So sustainable means unsustainable, and so it should come as no surprise that an (un)sustainable producer has gone out of business.

      1. Nobody ever talks about “sustainable government”.

        1. They just file “government” under “Too Big To Fail”. Sustainability is a given, because reasons.

  3. Legalize home distilling!

    1. Or do it without getting caught. =)

  4. And in November, voters in several Tennessee counties will have the opportunity to repeal a Prohibition-era law that prohibits the sale of wine in grocery stores.

    It’s not just the south that’s stupid. Can’t get wine in grocery stores in New York. Thank the liquor store owners’ lobby for this.

    1. MN has by far the worst laws of the states I lived in. NO alcohol of any kind in grocery stores (2% beer is not alcohol its really expensive water). No sale of off premise alcohol on Sunday which was reaffirmed again a couple years ago. I think they only approved on premise alcohol sales on Sunday 4 years ago. No growlers (I think). I am not sure Utah is this bad.

      1. We’ve always been able to drink on premise on Sunday in Minnesoda. And it is 3.2% in the grocery store.

        But yeah, it sucks that the liquor store owners have been able to spike Sunday sales for the last several sessions.

        1. 3.2%? Is it possible to get a buzz? I prefer Oranjeboom mega-strong from Holland at a tasty and refreshing 16%. A much better drunkeness/calorie ratio.

          1. *drunkenness

          2. Every summer, a horde of Canadian tourists down to visit on one of their long weekends would scoff at the idea of 3.2 beer getting them drunk.

            18 beers later and they are sleeping on the beach like a normal drunk…

            It is possible to get drunk, but the hangovers are really bad.

        2. Belated thanks for the corrections. It’s been 2 years since I lived there for a 2 year stint.

          1. No worries. There are some towns that have dry Sunday sales. The only reason that the HiHo in Dilworth survives is because that is where the college kids from Moorhead go on Sunday.

      2. Pennsylvania is.

    2. Meh, where I am (NYC) there are more liquor stores than grocery stores so I can’t complain too much – except prices would probably be better if the tiny number of extant supermarkets were able to get in on the action.

  5. One of the best things about living in Atlanta is the Craft beer scene. The availability, quantity, variety and choice, the beer-makers culture, the growler stations every half mile or so are one of the best features of this town.

    And you need it after spending ten minutes or so on the road with Atlanta drivers.

    1. And you need it after spending ten minutes or so on the road with Atlanta drivers.


  6. For all of the legitimate bitching here about stupid liquor laws, just wait until the pot laws are all written. Liquor laws will seem sane in comparison.

    1. Only ditchweed on sundays?

    2. How do you know it won’t settle down into something like the coffee model? Or the OTC drug model?

      1. Because this country is filled, to this day, with violent Puritans who will sic the agents of the state on you to assault, kidnap, and if need be murder, you if you derive enjoyment from the ingestion of certain chemicals.

        1. But people enjoy coffee & OTC drugs and that’s not the regulatory model they use for them.

          1. Keyword is “enjoy”. If you don’t enjoy your OTC drugs, then it’s okay by the Puritans.

  7. OT: Procedures were followed……..uit-claims

    Curry called the store and asked the security personnel to review the surveillance footage and clear him of the accusations, but they allegedly refused. State troopers also refused to look at the tape, the complaint says, and told him that he was going to jail. The plaintiff was arrested on Oct. 29, 2012, and charged with theft by deception and conspiracy.

  8. Here’s a related story on the volunteer/intern ban that affected the winery from Coyoteblog.

    If you aren’t already familiar with Warren Meyer, his blog is worth a read. (Even if he is a libertarian capitalist free market-supporting AGW skeptic and an older straight white male to boot.)

    1. wrong with his being libertarian?

  9. Westover explained that wineries often use volunteers

    “That’s outrageous! I can’t support a family of four on *volunteer* pay!”

  10. Westover explained that wineries often use volunteers?if you’ve ever taken part in a grape stomp, then you and your feet have volunteered for a winery?and that he didn’t know doing so was illegal.

    Silly Westover, didn’t she know that the State owns that labor and not her?

    1. Silly Westover, didn’t she know that the State owns both that labor and not her?

  11. A dry town in New Jersey relaxed its ban, meaning restaurants will now be able to offer wine on their menus

    Meanwhile, a New Jersey town is proposing to allow cops to bust in your home if they suspect there are under-21’s drinking in there.

  12. This is indeed why you msut roll with the punches.

  13. “But to California regulators, ignorance of a stupid and pointless law is no excuse.”

    It seems ignorance is only an acceptable excuse for writing and passing stupid laws, rather than disobeying them.

  14. I think you cheated including the Westover story as concerning “alcohol policies”. That one’s about labor laws. They could just as well have been making non-alcohol grape juice, or grape shot.

  15. And then there are the regulatory victories.

    A victory in liquor regulation is deregulation. Anything short of that is an aesthetic and temporary reprieve.

  16. my best friend’s sister makes $82 /hour on the computer . She has been without a job for eight months but last month her income was $20243 just working on the computer for a few hours. view ….


  17. Area needing attention: The drinking age. So when are some states going to revolt and make the national 21 drinking age go the way of the 55 speed limit?

    1. Likely never Kowalski.

      1. Ding ding ding we have a winner!

        It was either that or BDR529 lol

    2. The majority of people engage in the most ridiculous rationalizations, stereotyping, and portending of doom when the 21 drinking age is discussed.

      It’s so amazing just how few people seem to realize that nearly the entire world has a drinking age under 21 with less rigid enforcement of that age. Yet, there are endless posts, editorials, etc. about how 21 was chosen because that’s when the brain is done developing, and that allowing people under 21 will cause them mental and intelligence problems down the road.

      I guess the entire world is suffering from brain damage, while the US suffers less because apparently people under 21 don’t drink, and nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc. are the pillars of brain health due to their all age bans on alcohol.

      They whine that people under 21 drink irresponsibly, that too many people under 18 drink with “disastrous consequences”, then claim that lowering the age to 18 would “put alcohol in our schools”. I find it rare to see cognitive dissonance and contradictory statements made so close together without a hint of doubt.

      Very few issues show how stupid some people are than trying to get them to explain their support of the drinking age or justification for supporting it being raised to 25.

      1. Agreed 100%.

        The French serve wine at family meals, to the whole family. In Germany it is prefectly normal for parents to send their kids to the store to buy beer.

        The USA would send child protective services and a SWAT team after parents for the infamous crime of letting a 20 year old have a beer. 21 is some magic number.

        MADD surely deserves some of the blame, but the underlying problem goes back a lot further. This is, after all, the country that once passed a constitutional amendment banning alcoholic drinks entirely. But hey, at least we don’t still ban it like Saudi Arabia and Iran do.

  18. my buddy’s mother-in-law makes $82 an hour on the laptop . She has been out of work for eight months but last month her income was $19596 just working on the laptop for a few hours. look at here now …


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