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HB 429 and SB 123: The Big Wineries Mount a Counteroffensive

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jul 9, 2007 2:30PM

2007_07_bill.jpgHere at Chicagoist we've been watching the ongoing developments of HB 429, the pending legislation in the state House of Representatives, with a cautious gaze. Readers will remember that HB 429 is intended to bring Illinois in "compliance" with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Granholm v. Heald, which stated that non-reciprocal wine shipping laws were a violation of interstate commerce laws and the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealing Prohibition. If signed into law by Governor Blagojevich, HB 429 brings into balance the number of cases out-of-state wineries and in-state wineries can sell directly to customers by reducing the number of cases an out-of-state winery can sell directly to Illinois consumers.

One of the many concerns of HB 429 is that, if enacted into law, larger Illinois wineries and vineyards fear they will lose a large portion of their customer base because they'll have to sell the rest of their product through the three-tier wholesale system. It's a concern for them because there's no guarantee the state's wine and spirits wholesalers will add wines from Illinois to their already bursting portfolios. The state's two largest wineries, Lynfred Winery in Roselle and Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, have broken ranks with the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association to form the Illinois Winemakers Alliance. The Illinois wine industry is a $250 million business; Lynfred and Galena produce one-third of all wine made in Illinois. When they speak, politicians listen.

On a chance encounter, we spoke with Lynfred Winery Marketing Director Christina Anderson-Heller, who with Lynfred Winery President Fred Koehler has been lobbying the state legislature heavy to vote down SB 123, the Senate counterpart legislation soon up for debate. Ms. Anderson-Heller told us that the folks at Lynfred have been keeping tabs on what we've written about HB 429 and SB 123. She even sent us a copy of a recent letter Lynfred sent out to state Senators prior to the Legislature's recess, which you can download here (Adobe PDF). In the letter, Mr. Koehler makes an impassioned plea to vote against SB 123, arguing that passage of SB 123 would reduce tax revenues and ultimately harm the wineries that laid the foundation for the current growth of the state wine industry.

Ms. Anderson-Heller told Chicagoist that sources close to the debate say that SB 123 stands a good chance of being defeated when the bill comes up for ratification. Still, she did add that consumers concerned about the legislation should write or call their state Senator, saying that HB 429 and SB 123 are "beer lobby-driven bills." Chicagoist will keep readers posted on this developing story as new information comes in.

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