In California, Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries Now Have More Freedom on Social Media

In June of 2014, Revolution Wines, a Sacramento-based wine maker, retweeted a tweet from the Sacramento Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, promoting an upcoming event, called the “SaveMart Grape Escape” tasting. In response, the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission put Revolution Wines on a one-year probation and threatened to suspend its liquor license.

The California Alcoholic Beverage Commission considered the tweet as an impermissible violation of state “tied-house” laws. In general, California alcohol producers (such as wineries and breweries) aren’t allowed to promote retailers (such as the sponsor in this case, Save Mart), as outlined in provisions of the California Business and Professions Code related to the alcohol industry

Despite probation and the threat of a 10-day suspension from the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the event went as planned in 2014. However, it was announced in May of 2015 that the 2015 event (a mere weeks away) would be canceled. The reason for canceling was cited as concern that sponsors and participants would back out due to scrutiny from the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

As a result, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 780 on Friday, October 2. The bill was authored by Assembly Member Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), and allows for alcoholic beverage producers to identify retailers of their product on social media. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

What does this mean for California alcohol producers? Until now, producers were not able to communicate directly to customers where to buy their product. For example, if a master distiller was going to be pouring samples at a liquor shop, or if a new wine was featured by a new restaurant, the producer wasn’t allowed to report of this. A narrow exception existed, which allowed for alcohol producers to respond to “direct inquiries” from customers, however they also had to name at least two retailers to avoid showing favoritism toward any particular retailer. The passing of Assembly Bill 780 shows a commitment by the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission to ease “tied-house” law constraints in the social media age.

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