Finding Your Way in the .Gov Universe
What I’m about to say will likely seem obvious to many but I’ll say it anyway…if you want to know the rules for selling wine in a particular state, start at the liquor authority website. Over my years as a lawyer and compliance specialist, I’m frequently asked questions the answer to which is readily available on the state website. One of the great developments of the internet age is the ease of access to information on a multitude of topics, including the laws on making and selling wine.
The ABCs of ABCs
I’ve explored every state and federal alcohol agency website and I’ll be the first to tell you they are all over the map in terms of the quality. Most are actually quite good. They want you to easily find what you’re looking for so you don’t bother them with a phone call. The Texas ABC site is a great example. Informative and easy to navigate with answers to just about anything you’d want to know. California’s ABC site is pretty user friendly as well. Others leave something to be desired. Often this is the result of these agencies being divisions within a larger department and getting buried within the larger website, whereas Texas and California are departments in and of themselves.
Navigation can vary. Most states use simple panel or tab navigation with headers such as “Forms”, “Taxes”, or “Regulations”. They are intuitive and take you right to where you want to be. The worst seem to view visitor access as some kind of game. For these sites finding what you need is something like “hide and seek”, with the hider often winning. When all else fails most sites have “Search” boxes to look for key terms. I’ve had modest success using this method and sometimes you get lucky.
At the best sites you can find answers to questions ranging from getting started and licensing to advertising and trade practices, often available with just a few targeted clicks. Best of all, and maybe most importantly, you can find forms. Pretty much anything you need to stay current with the state.
- License and permit applications forms
- Reporting and taxes
- Changes to your business
You can also find meaningful information on your license privileges; not only through the governing statutes and regulations, but through bulletins and agency advisories providing interpretations and policy positions.
Getting There From Here
Finding agency sites is as easy as a web search, but for one-stop shopping you can’t beat the Wine Institute site. Not only will you find links to every state liquor agency, but also links to most state revenue departments. This is extremely helpful as many of the state tax forms are located with the revenue department rather than the liquor agency. A great resource for tax sites and rates is the Federation of Tax Administrators.
Don’t forget federal law. For whatever other complaints you may have about the TTB, its website shouldn’t be one of them. Whether you’re an importer, wholesaler, or winery, you can find answers to almost any question. They have a specialized Wine section, including information on labeling, permitting, taxes, trade practices and advertising. They even address questions about alternating proprietorships and custom crush.
If you need help, there are many professionals with practical experience dealing with regulatory agencies. Wine Compliance Alliance provides not only compliance services, but will train and educate your staff to professionally handle your compliance needs. Still, “do-it-yourself” is always a good way to get started. There is a wealth of information on the internet, you’ll be surprised just how much you can discover and learn just by looking.