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Many issues face the Washington wine industry, said Jean Leonard, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute in Olympia, and several key issues are on the institute’s radar screen for the 2008 legislative session.

The industry is seeking changes to "fulfillment" laws that currently require a winery to do its wine club work on the winery premises, Leonard said. Changes to the law are being sought that would allow a winery the option of contracting with another entity to perform wine club fulfillment and on-line order requests, such as putting packages together and shipping bottles of wine to consumers, she said.

The institute is also working to get existing laws changed that allow bonded wine warehouses to only store wine, Leonard said. The industry would like to see bonded warehouses be allowed to provide more services, such as bottle labeling, specialty labeling, shrink wrapping, or building displays, she said.

Both changes would allow wineries to focus on producing and marketing wine, and allow alternatives for other services, Leonard said. Changes to the laws are being readied for lawmakers to consider this session.

The institute continues its work on the state’s so-called "tied-house laws," that stem from Prohibition and restrict the manufacture, distribution, and sales of alcoholic beverages, Leonard said. The institute is a member of the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s Task Force working on changes to the state’s tied-house laws, and is interested in proposing legislation that would allow Washington wineries to market their wines without undue regulatory intervention, Leonard said.

Top quality

One of the institute’s goals is to help the industry stay focused on producing top-quality wines, said Keith Love, vice president for communications and corporate affairs for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, headquartered in Woodinville, and vice president of the Washington Wine Institute.

"It seems that a winery is opening every day in Washington, which is great as long as we keep the bar high," he said. "The Wine Institute can help new wineries understand our legacy as a wine-producing state if they will join us and work toward the common goal. The Wine Institute is the institutional memory for our rapidly changing state wine industry."

The institute also works to help unify the state wine industry, Love said. The industry includes very small boutique wineries and large-scale wineries, Love said.

"Our sizes vary, but the mission should be the same: To show the world that Washington makes some of the best wines anywhere," Love said. "We will not always agree on how liquor laws should be changed, but we can find common ground if we are open-minded."

One of the institute’s biggest tasks is to communicate with members of the state’s wine industry, to educate them about the institute’s activities involving key issues, said Marty Clubb, owner of L’Ecole No. 41 winery in Walla Walla and president of the Washington Wine Institute. The institute’s nine-member board has worked hard to include all segments of the industry, he said.

"We think the institute reflects the entire spectrum of the industry," Clubb said. "We want every voice to be heard.