Heads up if you don’t know the laws about giving away “free” wine. I can hardly believe how many wine companies are trying to keep their businesses afloat with enticements, now, given the pandemic, and free wine seems to be one of the top motivations.

I learned the laws a long time ago, because my fingerprints were all over a case of wine confiscated that I had packaged, in a Florida state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control sting. That fine resulted in $10,000 the company had to pay to Florida. They didn’t come to me; I was just doing my job.  Still, I was traumatized.

So, today: from an older article entitled: Void in California no more: Alcohol beverage producers free to market sweepstakes…

From Thompson Coburn LLP: There are some conditions, however. And, some of these conditions include:

  1. Entrants must be 21 years of age or older to participate.
  2. The contest cannot involve the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
  3. Caps, corks, labels, etc. cannot be used as an entry.
  4. Alcohol beverages cannot be awarded as prizes.
  5. Entry or extra chances cannot be awarded for the purchase of alcoholic beverages.

With wine companies trying to reinvent themselves, one very important consideration has not yet been researched by most wineries. Big companies with a legal department are well in-the-know.  New, small emerging companies trying to save the dream they’ve finally established, this one is for you… Head’s up.

Anyone coming into wine from the early 2000’s onward probably hasn’t ever had to ask this question before, nor do they have a historic memory or the curiosity – especially since they’re treading water to stay alive. And, it’s not easy to navigate the ABC Websites for the answers. It’s a lengthy adventure just to find an email address, but I found one. I wanted an update and who knows if anyone is working there right now. Research departments aren’t as essential as busting someone’s chops. It’s been two weeks since I sent an email to them. Crickets.

As a wine publisher, I got a query to write this “feel good” story.” I responded:

Hi, Brenda (not real name),

I only write this to you, because in the early 1990’s, I packed a shipment of wines sold through the tasting room, where I was working. Even though it was illegal – we all knew it was, and yet we shipped – so I did my job. That box was then shipped to Florida.

HEADLINE: “Illegal shipment of a dozen bottles of wine was stopped in Florida by the ABC. The winery [the one I was working for at the time] was fined $10,000.”

An article giving more details.

“The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 came into force, bringing into effect significant changes to the rules relating to the promotion of alcohol. There are two  really significant changes:

“Perhaps the most significant is that alcohol can no longer be advertised off the premises in a way which leads people to believe that the price is 25 percent or more below the price at which alcohol is ordinarily sold.

“and… Providing free wine as a competition prize or as part of a loyalty programme is now illegal.

“Offers made outside licensed premises for any goods or services, or the opportunity to win a prize, on the condition that alcohol is bought are now also not permitted. If a business runs a competition where alcohol forms part of the prize, the promotion may not be advertised anywhere people could see or hear it outside of licensed premises. This will include promotions where people subscribe to a newsletter to go into the draw to win a prize, where the competition is a game of skill, and any ‘lucky dip’ competitions. ‘Seen or heard’ from outside licensed premises will include advertising that is conducted via email, print, broadcast, or social media, including Facebook.”

During this Covid-19 days, I’m seeing wine companies trying to creatively pitching “buy wine and we’ll give complimentary wines to your favorite first responder,” for instance.

When I responded to Brenda, the company promptly dropped their promotion. Very sensible move. And, I’ve also let another company know recently. So, I decided it’s time to just remind the wine industry. Sorry to break the bad news, but I don’t want to see some well-intentioned winery have to go under. That still was in the 1990’s. Based on inflation, let’s not find out what a $10,000 fine could be today.

Special thank you to Wine Industry Insight for publishing this story.
Special thank you to Wine Business for publishing this story.