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A Fair Pour 

New bill would allow microdistilleries, like wineries, to have tasting rooms

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"The wine industry has a strong economic industrial base," Botting says.

According to Botting, this simply means that the wine industry "has more political influence. We [ABC] don't go out to the State Legislature. It's an industry-driven legislative process, and [the wine industry] has been more involved in that process over the years, and thus has affected more change."

The microdistillery industry, on the other hand, is still small; according to Hartunian, there are only around 30 craft distillers in California.

"It comes down to money," Hartunian says. "If you're bigger, you can make more changes that will benefit your industry."

Hartunian says that several bills have been crafted to address the three-tier system for distillers in the past, but none has even made it to the floor for a vote. He believes national distribution companies like Southern Wine & Spirits, which reported $9 billion in revenue in 2011, have a vested interest in keeping the system intact.

The guild is currently backing AB 933, a bill introduced by Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner and Isadore Hall, which would allow distilleries to operate tasting rooms that charge for samples. The bill does not delve further into the three-tier system.

"The three-tier system is fine," Karakasevic says. "We need our distributors, but the reality is that microdistilleries are businesses and should be able to sell their own product. So let me have my products available to taste and let me sell them, and therefore pay my distributors more money."

Hartunian says the guild envisions a California-sourced microdistillery scene, in which Golden State farmers and distillers work together to create a product that is completely California-made. To help in the legislative process, the guild has contracted with lobbying firm DiMare, Van Vleck & Brown, which represents companies that aren't exactly players in the go-local scene; the firm also represents Safeway and multinational manufacturer Siemens Corporation, among others.

"They have good relationships with the distributors and are able to make our pitch," Hartunian explains. "We have the need for an experienced, well-connected lobbying firm to help us navigate some of the political waters that we don't have experience in, being a smaller, younger industry."

As it is now, he says, "we're unable to help [our distributors] help us. We want to apply the business model that has worked for wineries and breweries. Distillers are getting the short end of the stick."

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