Notice of Regulatory Relief: Virtual Wine Tastings

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Notice of Regulatory Relief: Virtual Wine Tastings

The department has received multiple inquiries about virtual wine tastings while tasting rooms are closed during the COVID-19 emergency. By this Notice of Regulatory Relief, the department suspends enforcement of certain rules and otherwise provides guidance to Type-02 winegrower licensees for conducting “virtual wine tastings.” A winegrower licensee may deliver tasting samples of wines to consumers away from their licensed premises as follows:

1. Business and Professions Code section 25600 and Rule 106(g) provide, generally, that licensees may not give alcohol away for free to consumers or as an incentive to consumers making purchases from a licensee. There are, however, certain exceptions to this prohibition, including the giving away of tastes of wine by winegrowers on their licensed premises. (Rule 53(a)(1).) The department suspends enforcement of this rule for a “virtual wine tasting” involving delivery of wine samples to consumers away from the licensed premises provided that they are part of a sale of wine or other products.Licensees can, under existing law, sell samples without the sale of other wine or products.

2. Rule 53 also provides that a wine tasting is “a presentation of samples of one or more wines . . . for the purpose of acquainting the tasters with the characteristics of the wine or wines tasted.” In addition, several sections of the Business and Professions Code, including section 25503.56 for example, limit the size of free tastes of wine to one ounce per taste. Wine tastings conducted pursuant to this Notice are not subject to this limitation.

3. Normally the cost of shipping, or any other good or service, may not be given for free with an associated sale of alcohol. The department has previously provided temporary regulatory relief specifically allowing for the free delivery of alcohol during the COVID-19 crisis. This applies to the delivery of wine samples to consumers for the purpose of conducting a “virtual wine tasting.” The department recommends that licensees follow its prior guidance to ensure compliance with the law.

4. Any wine, including small tastes, shipped to consumers from a licensee’s licensed premises must be sent in a manufacturer sealed container. These containers must meet the federal regulatory guidelines for both labeling and standard of fill. In addition, such containers must comply with applicable state labeling laws in the same manner that they would apply to regular wine bottles or other containers. In addition, licensees must comply with all applicable tax laws for these “taste” containers.

5. The department regulates sales and deliveries to consumers only within California. The department cautions winegrowers who wish to provide a “virtual wine tasting” to customers outside the state that they will need to comply with all laws of the state where the tastes are being shipped.

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