Photo Credit: David Mulvihill

First published in 2008, He Said Beer, She Said Wine was inspired by dinner pairing competitions that prominent Philadelphia-area sommelier Marnie Old and famed owner and founder of Dogfish Head craft brewery (Milton, DE) Sam Calagione have been holding for many years. 

While inspired by the above title, and a wine vs. beer debate that has continued for longer than my first glass of wine or beer, my column this month focuses more on California’s COVID-19 business-related requirements, and how present restrictions might serve to favor one segment of the industry over another.

Restrictions at Hand

On July 13th, in an effort to further quell the spread, Governor Gavin Newsom, in conjunction with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), mandated that all CA ABC-licensed businesses with on-premises consumption of alcoholic beverages immediately discontinue all indoor operations. All-inclusive, it applied to wineries, breweries, distilleries, bars, restaurants, brewpubs and clubs and required them to cease indoor operations.

In addition, all breweries, distilleries, bars and clubs were directed to “…discontinue all outdoor operations, unless they operate a restaurant on the licensed premises (either by way of a bona fide eating place on the premises or through the use of a bona fide meal provider pursuant to prior Relief issued by the Department).”

Wineries were left out of the above additional imposed requirements. Yes, wineries can serve wine to patrons outdoors without having to meet any meal component requirement that all other licensees must comply with. CDPH and CA ABC guidance appears to be silent in addressing reasons why wineries remain free of these additional, cumbersome and costly restrictions. In order to stay open for business, stand-alone breweries with tasting rooms must line-up meal providers or close sales for onsite consumption, its major economic lifeblood source. 

The Wine Institute was quick to publish the following, on July 13th, in its message communicating Governor Newsom’s newly imposed restrictions: “Under the statewide directive, all winery tasting rooms in the state must move operations outdoors while continuing to follow the guidance for Restaurants, Bars, and Wineries. The order also requires restaurants and all other alcohol beverage licensees to serve a meal in order to serve alcohol for onsite consumption. The meal requirement does not apply to winery tasting rooms unless otherwise ordered by the county.”

Questions

While this reporter questions the meal requirement for any licensees (as long as outdoor and distancing requirements are met), the disparity of rules for one licensee or industry-type is more troubling. If restrictions are being imposed across-the-board for the common good, does it make sense to make allowances or draw up a separate set of rules for wine vs. beer? What is the difference between having a glass of wine outdoors (with proper distancing), or a glass of beer, or the beverage of your choice? Why does requiring someone to purchase food make it any safer?

What appears to be obvious disparate treatment definitely causes one to question. 

Historic inequalities in the beverage industry have existed, likely in-part, to the strength of a particular industry lobby. One readily relatable example: CA CRV deposit is mandatory for every bottle of beer, but absent from bottles of wine or liquor.

In these days of COVID-19, the strength of a particular lobbyist’s influence on our State’s legislative powers should not be a factor that differentiates our common health goals.

Interesting fact: Our Governor Newsom is a founder and owner of PlumpJack Winery in Oakville (Napa), CA. 

He said wine. We said beer too!