The legal regulations for social media posts in the wine industry have long been quite rigid. Many of these rulings date back to the repeal of Prohibition, in 1933, and the establishment of a three-tier liquor sales system that was created to theoretically not give undo control to any one specific sales tier.
The upshot of this has included incredibly controversial legal perspectives about what type of social media promotions might favor one sales outlet, or retailer, over another venue. So directly promoting wine dinners at one restaurant or wine tastings at another retailer has long been officially illegal, even if most wineries didn’t always comply.
Fortunately, these laws are changing and becoming more permissive, in a way that should benefit both retailers and wineries. California drinks attorney Rebecca Stamey-White, a partner in the firm of the San Francisco-based firm of Hinman & Carmichael, shared some of the inside story about how—and why—these laws are changing in one of her firm’s recent newsletters.
How the Law is Evolving
Recently the state of California has expanded an alcohol supplier’s ability to advertise events at retail locations starting this year. According to an assembly bill issued last fall suppliers of wine and spirits may post photos, however strangely, no video, of the retail premises, where they host events, on social media in connection with a range of events, according to Stamey-White. According to John Hinman, another partner at the same the firm, these laws went into effect this year.
These new laws allow wineries to post pictures of winemaker dinners, tastings at retailer venues with specific licenses and tastings at on-premise venues. She added, in the newsletter, that, “Previously, the law only allowed suppliers to mention the location of the event and basic details, but you couldn’t explicitly include pictures of the retail premises, so it made it difficult [or folks had to take the risk] to actually promote events on Instagram, Facebook and on [other] websites. Now it’s explicitly permissible to advertise these events with photos, which is helpful, since every social media platform these days focuses on photos and video,” she adds.
“The rule of thumb that many brands have been following…and telling their agencies to follow…. is to include references to at least three accounts in social media posts. With social media dominating as a source of info on ‘what’s happening, where?’ it requires some creativity to make that content relevant and not sound foolish when you’re having an event at just one store or bar, for example,” shares Steve Raye, the director of Bevology, a Simsbury, Connecticut-based drinks consulting firm.
He adds that, “The good news though is that now we know the rules. Where before everyone was guessing where the line was. Nobody wants to cross it, but it’s been a bit of a grey area than an actual line. Looking forward, social media is a juggernaut that beverage-alcohol legislation and judicial rulings are falling way behind.”
What Changed this Year
The laws, relative to social media, have changed as of this year. According to Stamey-White, “California expanded an alcohol supplier’s ability to advertise events at retail locations starting this year.”
“Basically California had made it very hard for wineries to promote events over social media that had any reference to a retailer. There were even some citations for an event that had been run annually in Sacramento, I guess it was close enough to the regulators for them to see it,” shared Jon Moramarco, a partner in number-crunching firm of Gomberg & Fredrikson.
“Posting pictures of the location where your wines are being poured is a far cry from anything anti-competitive. This is a step in the right direction,” shares Rabobank’s New York City-based global strategist for beverages Stephen Rannekleiv.
Moramarco adds that, “This prohibition made it very hard for wineries to use social media the way most people use it without thinking. This will make it easier to have a natural social media program around events but as John [Hinman] notes wineries will still need to have good practices to avoid the remaining pitfalls.”
In terms of social media, wine-focused concerns in other states, Moramarco says that they are minor. “The short answer is that suppliers posting photos of tasting events have not been a big priority in other states. No other state has been so explicit about social media advertising, Tied House [laws] and experiential events as California,” Stamey-White adds.
“We also recommend implementing a well-designed, social media policy, with guidance about how to engage with retailers and events on retail premises specifically,” she concludes.