Which Presidential Candidate is Best for Wine?
This was the interesting question the Wine Spectator tip-toed around in a recent article that examined the industry’s relationship with the Republican and Democratic national conventions. It’s worth a read, but it is also an article that brings up an important question: Is it even possible to choose a presidential candidate based on how we believe they will help the wine industry?
For my part, I don’t think it’s worth asking the question, let alone acting on your answer to the question. The primary reason for this view is that most of the really important legal, regulatory and political issues that impact the wine industry and wine consumers happen at the state level, not the federal level.
While the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (a part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury) does deal with important issues like product label approval and American Viticultural Area approvals), the real nitty-gritty of the wine industry happens at the state level and has since 1933 when the 21st Amendment ending Prohibition passed.
That said, there are “meta issues” that are addressed in part at the federal level that will have an impact on the wine industry. For example, in the Wine Spectator article I was quoted noting the importance of free trade as a driver of the American wine industry. But others brought up other meta-issues, such as immigration reform.
The various presidential candidates have very different takes on these issues. If for example some buffoon choose to enact stiff tariffs on certain countries’ goods, that could certainly harm the American wine industry by hurting industry jobs once the targeted country gets around to enacting its own tariffs on our own exported wines. Or, consider the impact on agriculture (of which wine is an important part) of severely curtailed immigration to the United States. Then of course, there are federal sin taxes to consider.
Another area where federal legislation and policy directed by the next president could have an important impact is the issue of wages. As the Wine Spectator article pointed out, “A potential increase in the federal minimum wage has some in the industry worried about rising labor costs. The NVV surveyed its members and found most were paying above minimum wage already. But it could make an impact in regions where profit margins are much tighter.”
But on the issues that have a pointed and direct impact on the wine industry and wine consumers, the President makes little difference. I’m thinking here of direct shipment of wine, franchise laws, self distribution, tasting room regulations, grey market access, availability of wine such as in grocery stores, and other issues. This kind of policy will remain in the hands of state and local legislators.
There are another three months or so before the presidential election and I presume in that time an attentive voter who wants to cast their vote for the most “wine friendly” candidate could create a matrix of issue that impact the wine industry and wine consumers as a way to compare the candidates.
However, if you are truly interested in casting your vote based on how the interests of the wine industry and wine consumers will be impacted by the coming elections, your best bet is to take a close look at who is running for your state assembly and senate and governor. The real action takes place at the state level.