Wine grape industry referenda
Grape growers and wine producers will vote on doubling the assessment ceiling.
There appears to be little public opposition to a proposal that could double the assessment rates paid by wine grape growers and wine producers to fund activities of the Washington Wine Commission. The Washington State Department of Agriculture is expected to send ballots on the assessment increase to the industry in January.
The referendum, which would raise assessment ceilings from $6 to $12 per ton of wine grapes harvested by growers and from 4 cents to 8 cents per gallon of wine sold by producers, was requested by the Wine Commission to fund its five-year strategic plan. The plan includes expansion of a national branding campaign, in-state and international promotion, and research and education.
Although there were several questions from the audience during a recent WSDA hearing regarding when the maximum rate would be reached and funding of research, a handful of growers and winery owners expressed support for the increase, as did the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Three individuals sent written comments in opposition to the assessment increases to WSDA before the hearing.
Two separate referenda will take place—one of wine producers and one of wine grape growers—with the results independent of each other. A majority of the grape growers must support the grape assessment increase, and the vote of each grower is weighted by the grower’s share of total grape sales in the prior year. Similarly, the wine assessment increase must be supported by a majority of wine producers, and their votes will be weighted to represent their share of wine production in the prior year. The voting process is administered by WSDA.
One area that would benefit from the additional revenue raised by the increased assessments is research, said Robin Pollard, executive director of the commission. “Commissioners have committed to dedicating five percent of future budgets to research and education. This would be the first time in the commission’s history that part of the budget will be committed to research.”
Viticulture and enology research conducted at Washington State University is currently funded through a wine tax of one-fourth cent per liter on all wine sold within the state. The wine tax annually generates about $160,000. WSU also contributes about $350,000 to $400,000 each year to support viticulture and enology research and extension programs.
In recent years, the Wine Commission’s annual budget has been around $1.5 million.