Free the Grapes! January 2019 Update

January 11, 2019


On January 3, Free the Grapes! and Wine Institute presented a status update on FTG actions to the public policy committee of the Napa Valley Vintners. We want to share highlights from that meeting because it provided a good overview of the role of Free the Grapes!, where we spend our time, and what results we generated in support of the legislative improvements spearheaded by Wine Institute.

Oklahoma Becomes Legal State #45. OK became the 45th legal state for winery DTC. But it was close. Free the Grapes! and its consumers rallied to send 550 letters to Governor Fallin within 24 hours to stave off a veto threat. (Wine Institute is now working to resolve the limitations on shipments from fulfillment houses.) Wineries now have the option of shipping DTC into states that represent 95% of the US population.

Free the Grapes! New Jersey Chapter Kicks into High Gear. The campaign to remove New Jersey’s 250k gallon capacity cap made huge strides in 2018. An October press conference in Trenton generated 14 million media impressions. TV, radio and print media outlets covered the issue, including local nightly newscasts in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York. The conference featured vintner Dennis Cakebread, chairman of Cakebread Cellars and a Free the Grapes! board member; Terri Cofer Beirne, Eastern Counsel for Wine Institute; and Jeremy Benson, Executive Director of Free the Grapes!  You can view the FOX-TV clip here as well as a summary of coverage, which generated a sharp uptick in Facebook followers and email subscribers.

Free the Grapes! Ohio Chapter Launched in November. Like in New Jersey, we established a local chapter and, this month, retained a local PR agency to place stories and build support for a bill to remove the 250k gallon capacity cap. (You may recall that we worked with the lobbyists to remove the capacity caps in MA and AZ several years ago.)  Building a solid base of local consumer advocates is key to supporting favorable legislation; legislators need to hear that this issue concerns their constituents.

Consumer Letters to Legislators Doubles. Across the country, consumers used our website to personalize and send 3,869 letters to their state legislators in support of direct shipping, double the figure from 2017.  And the letters came from a wide range of states including New York (supporting retailer DTC), Utah, Ohio Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma, Delaware and of course New Jersey and Ohio. Thanks to all the wineries that included our text in consumer email campaigns; that really helps drive up support.

Delaware House, Senate Pass DTC Bill for First Time. Delaware is one of the five holdouts, but in 2018, the House and Senate both passed a DTC bill which is the first time that has happened in DE. While it did not become law we are hopeful for 2019.

Website Gets a Remake. We completely re-designed the website to make it more mobile-friendly. We also upgraded the app we use for our legislator database and letter-writing functionality, making it easier for consumers to write letters in support of shipping. If you haven’t seen the new “for the trade” section, you’ll find our Blog posts (including our latest post on the US Supreme Court case), as well as press releases and updates on the Press page. And watch for a format improvement to this email in the coming weeks.

Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium: Our Main Fundraiser Sells Out for Second Year. The January 2018 DTC Wine Symposium attracted another sold-out group of wine club, tasting room, marketing and DTC managers from 19 states and four countries. Along with speakers, volunteers and sponsors, nearly 500 execs packed the Hilton Concord hotel for a 2-day program. In our post-event survey, 105 respondents gave high marks: 96% recommend the summit; 86% graded it as either “excellent” or “good.” The marketing summit and fundraiser netted $143k to help pay for agencies in New Jersey and Ohio, website upgrades, and national PR campaign, etc. Your attendance at the DTC Wine Symposium not only benefits your DTC team, but supports a cause that is successfully building the DTC sales channel.

These are the highlights, but there was other work accomplished as well, including placing 110+ articles, answering consumer and winery questions, newsletters, press releases, and nearly 30 state-specific email campaigns.


New Jersey enters the second of its two-year legislative term so we will be very active placing news stories, generating consumer support, and building local advocacy. In Ohio we launch our campaign this month with similarly high expectations, and hope to soon have a favorable bill that will remove the capacity cap.

Wine Institute intends to run DTC bills in Delaware, Utah, Alabama and Mississippi. While each state may not need its own chapter of Free the Grapes!, we will no doubt be working to generate press coverage and consumer letters (and asking for your help to reach consumers in these states).

Additionally, we anticipate efforts to remove the wholesaler exclusion provisions in Indiana, as well as the on-site requirement for wine purchases in Rhode Island and Arkansas.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, thanks to all of you who support Free the Grapes! by attending and sponsoring the DTC Wine Symposium, by making individual donations to FTG, and by supporting its mission by including copy in your consumer e-newsletters and social media platforms. Working together, we’re all building a stronger, legal channel for DTC sales that benefits wine lovers and satisfies state regulators.

Jeremy Benson, Executive Director

Board of Directors, Free the Grapes!

Steve Gross, VP, State Relations, Wine Institute. Rex Stults, Senior Director, Industry Relations, Napa Valley Vintners. Cheryl Murphy Durzy, CEO, LibDib. Dennis Cakebread, Chairman, Cakebread Cellars. Jeff Carroll, Chief Product Officer, Compli. Michael Kaiser, VP, WineAmerica. Pete Downs, President, Family Winemakers of California