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What Is A “Wine Growler”? TTB Weighs In

You may not have heard much about the subject of “Growlers” in association with wine in the past. While beer lovers are far more commonly attracted to these types of containers and their purchase, it’s just not yet that common with wine. However, with a recent ruling by TTB, “Wine Growlers” will likely be a subject of conversation among wine lovers, wineries and wine retailers.

First, what is a “Growler? According to the TTB definition a Wine Growler “is any container that is designed to be securely covered and is intended to be filled (or refilled) with wine for purposes of off-premises consumption, as well as any similar container designed to facilitate the secure transportation of the wine for later consumption off of the premises.” In other words, imagine a consumer coming to your winery and rather than buying a few bottles of wine, they bring a three liter container, have it filled from a barrel of your tax-paid wine, and then take it home to enjoy.

Many years ago the concept of the “wine growler” was not uncommon. Consumers would often bring large containers to wineries or retailers, have them filled up with their favorite wine, which they would then bring home and use as their source of wine. Both before Prohibition and after its repeal, it was not uncommon for consumers living in wine country to obtain their supply of wine in this way. Today, however, this practice has been largely a relic of the past.

Now, in response to a few inquiries from wineries and retailers as to the legality under federal law of filling up wine growlers for consumers, TTB issued a ruling that this practice is in fact legal under certain specific circumstances. According to TTB, federal law allows the filling of growlers with wine under the following conditions for wineries or retailers:

1. Receive a permit from TTB to operate as a “taxpaid wine bottling house”
2. The Growler to be filled may be no larger in capacity than four liters
3. The Growler may be brought by the customer or purchased on-premise before filling
4. The filling of the Growler must be for the purpose of off-premise consumption.
5. The winery or retailer must keep specific records concerning tax paid wine, received, dispensed and removed from the premises.

Currently, only Washington (assuming Governor Inslee signs the bill today to allow growler refills by wineries only) and Oregon allow the sale of wine in growlers in one form or another. However, with this ruling, the attention it brings to the idea of selling wine in growlers and given the entrepreneurial times in which we live, we expect to see wineries and retailers in other states begin to explore the idea of selling wine in growlers.

It’s worth noting that while wineries are required to hold a “basic permit” with TTB and obtain Certificates of Label Approval (COLAs) for labels that they produce, retailers are not required to hold a TTB license. A retailer that applies to be a taxpaid bottling house would then be subject to TTB jurisdiction and record-keeping requirements. It appears that wineries or retailers that obtain the additional TTB permit would not need to obtain COLAs for growlers that are filled, at least as long as they are not pre-packaged for the consumers.

Here is a link to the recent TTB ruling on Wine Growlers: http://www.ttb.gov/rulings/2014-3.pdf

Don’t Fall Behind With Your Fortified Wine

Maine, New Mexico, and Washington are the only states that have separate excise tax rates for wine and wine fortified with spirits (Edit: Some states consider a product to be fortified if it is over a certain ABV, regardless of the addition of spirits). To date, we’ve accommodated wineries that shipped fortified products to consumers by having two separate versions of the report or used calculations based on product ABV in each state. Based on user feedback, we wanted to make this process easier and more accurate, so we recently added the ability to specify that a product is fortified in ShipCompliant. With this change, we updated the Maine, New Mexico, and Washington returns listed below so that any orders containing “fortified” products will be taxed at the corresponding rate, beginning with returns that are due on or after March 20.

  • Maine Direct Shipper Excise Tax and Premium Report of Table Wine, Sparkling and Fortified Wine
  • New Mexico Liquor Excise Tax Return for Direct Shippers
  • Washington LIQ-318 Wine Authorized Representative Certificate of Approval Holder Summary Tax Report
  • Washington Liquor Shipment and Tax Report (LIQ-778 Distributor)
  • Washington Liquor Shipment and Tax Report (LIQ-870 Wine Shipper)

If you are subscribed to one of the returns listed above, we will automatically update your return to tax products based on the new “fortified” product settings starting Friday, February 28 – you do not have to take any action in your ShipCompliant account unless you have fortified products.

To mark products as fortified, select the “Fortified” checkbox when adding or editing products in your account. Please note: Any orders entered prior to specifying that a product is fortified will not be retroactively updated. To learn more, read our client Knowledge Base article.

South Dakota Direct Shipping Bill Needs One More Push

South Dakota is one of the few remaining states that prohibits the direct-to-consumer shipment of wine, but that could change if supporters of wine shipping quickly encourage the South Dakota House of Representatives to support SB 114. And speed is of the essence since SB 114 must pass out of the House by March 11 if it is to become law this year.

Passed by the South Dakota Senate by a vote of 23-11, SB 114 would allow a licensed winery to deliver up to twelve cases of wine to an individual consumer within a calendar year. The bill includes a $150 annual permit fee and remittance of sales and excise taxes. It also goes a little further than most states with existing shipping laws by requiring both age verification of the purchaser and also the registration of each label shipped into the state in advance.

The next step for SB 114 is to move through the Commerce and Energy Committee in the House of Representatives. Then, if voted through, receive a positive vote on the floor of the South Dakota House of Representatives before the bill would head to the Governor’s desk for signing, which he said he would do. The Commerce and Energy Committee is expected to consider and vote on the bill early next week.

Free the Grapes! is recommending that South Dakotans contact immediately House Commerce Committee members. Winery proponents can help the effort by reaching out to any customers and contacts in South Dakota and urging them to visit the Free the Grapes! website to send their thoughts on the bill to South Dakota lawmakers.

Everything is bigger in Texas, including 4 month quarters and 13 month years

Texas sent out notices to all permitted out-of-state wine direct shippers that as of January 1, 2014, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) is updating the filing periods for the C-240, Shippers Excise Tax Return. The notice states that permittees shipping less than 4,000 gallons annually to consumers in Texas may begin filing this return on an annual calendar basis, beginning with the 2014 year. Permittees shipping more than 4,000 gallons of wine annually must continue to file this return on a quarterly basis, however the return will reset as a standard quarterly filing, as opposed to the unusual offset quarterly schedule. In other words:

* Qualified annual filers will file their first annual return due January 15, 2015
* Quarterly filers will file their first calendar quarter return due April 15, 2014

For the first filing period on this new schedule, rather than file a monthly return for December 2013, TABC instructs all permittees to include December 2013 in their first filing period of the new filing structure. ShipCompliant users need not worry calculating this extra month into their new filing periods; this month will already be included in the new filing periods by the time these filing periods need to be submitted to the state. Permittees that are ShipCompliant users and allowed to switch to annual filing should keep an eye out for an alert notifying you when the annual frequency is available for selection in your ShipCompliant account. Please note that you should only switch to the annual frequency if the state has indicated they qualify, and those that are qualified must file annually.

How to make compliant shipments to Arkansas

Following up on Sarah’s post about the new permit applications being available in Arkansas, we wanted to give you a quick update on how we’re handling some of the unique requirements in the Arkansas law. The bottom line is that you can now make compliant shipments to Arkansas if you’ve completed the permit process. Continue reading below for the full details of how we implemented this new state in ShipCompliant…

1) We deployed the updates to production last night. We also activated the appropriate rules in the ShipCompliant Direct database. The first thing to note is that this permit allows you to make onsite shipments only. Therefore, if you pass in a shipment with an Order Type of Internet, Phone, Mail, Fax, or Club (all of which map to an “Offsite” Sale Type), the order response will be Non Compliant. Shipments with an Order Type of In Person will results in a Sale Type of Onsite and therefore will be compliant if all other rules checked are also compliant.

2) Because the Arkansas DFA is going to accept the FedEx and UPS standard alcohol shipping labels and stickers as meeting the requirement for special shipping labels, we did not add any custom rules to comply with this provision. Using your standard alcohol shipping practices here will achieve compliance with respect to the labeling provision.

3) We did add a new rule called for the provision that requires all shipments to be delivered to a residential address. If you are using version 1.1 or 1.2 of the API will see this rule type come through as Business Address Shipping Prohibited. Please work with Emily Sheehan, our Integration Specialist, if you have any questions about handling or testing this new rule type. The rule is live now in Arkansas in our sandbox (dev) and demo (demo) environments.

4) When shipments are sent to ShipCompliant, they are checked for compliance against our rules database and that process always includes an address validation step prior to determining the rules that are applicable for that shipment. As part of our algorithm for validating addresses, we’ll always set the Residential Business Delivery Indicator (RBDI) flag to either R for Residential or B for Business per USPS standards. When checking this new rule type for compliance, we’ll look at that flag and only shipments with an RBDI set to R will pass the compliance check process.

In summary, if you have a permit and make an onsite shipment to a residential address in Arkansas, an order will now pass the compliance check process in ShipCompliant once you acknowledge the new rules in ShipCompliant Direct. We’ve included two sample XML responses below to illustrate both compliant and non-compliant shipments to Arkansas.