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HB 429 Passes, Litigation Imminent

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Aug 9, 2007 1:52PM

Yesterday the Illinois House approved legislation regarding how customers will be able to buy their wine. It's a story we've been keeping tabs on here at Chicagoist for a while.

Supporters of the bill champion HB 429 as a victory for Illinois consumers. They claim that the uniform 12-case limit shared by in- and out-of-state wineries, and the establishment of a permit system allowing smaller out-of-state wineries to sell their product directly to retailers, will broaden the variety of wine available to consumers. Opponents of the bill say that HB 429 is not necessary; since Illinois was already a state with "full reciprocity," arguing that consumers already had unfettered access to a wide array of wine through out-of-state retailers and wine clubs. Chicagoist received a press release from Specialty Wine Retailers Association Executive Director Tom Wark detailing this argument. You can read it here (Adobe PDF file).

Additionally, HB 429 saw substantial opposition from the state's two largest wineries, Lynfred Winery in Roselle and Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, who argue that they and similar sized wineries in Illinois will see a substantial drop in revenue from direct sales, by having to utilize a wholesaler to sell their wine, under the new measure. Neither of these points were reported in the AP wire story referenced by Crain's yesterday.

Indeed, it looks as though the state's wholesale distributors are the big winners in all this. They've been lobbying hard for this legislation for close to two years, putting substantial amounts of money into the campaign funds of many of the bill's sponsors. If anything, the bill ensures that wholesalers are the first in line and get to have the pick of the litter. Wark has previously promised that SWRA would take HB 429 to court if it passed, and an e-mail we received from Lynfred marketing director Christina Anderson-Heller indicated that neither they nor Galena have given up the fight.

We have to ask: the state legislature can't agree on a budget and state employees are days away from not being paid, yet this bill managed to pass. We're currently wondering where their priorities lie.