HR 1161 Explained in Simple Terms

HR 1161 - Free the grapes!

There has been a lot of information flying around the Internet the last few days regarding HR 1161, and I’ve had to do quite a bit of reading to get a firm grasp on it myself!
The reason that it took me so long to fully comprehend was that with me being from England, the Government over there works ever so slightly different than it does in the U.S.
For a start, lobbying isn’t really seen in the U.K.
About 5 years ago, I had a guest in the restaurant I was running tell me very proudly that he was a lobbyist up in Washington D.C. I told him “…that’s awesome! I have no clue what a lobbyist is.”

In the U.K., laws are made (which seem to pass unchallenged more than they are here), taxes seem to be increased without much opposition, so you either abide by the rules or you go to jail. That way of running a country would never work here, for the main reason that most households contain at least one firearm!

So in case you’re not an active member of the U.S. wine industry, but would still like to know what HR 1161 will mean for you as a consumer, I have written this article especially for your reading pleasure.



So What is HR 1161

Last year it was called  the "CARE" (Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness) act HR 5034, and never actually came to vote. But Congress. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (a Republican from Utah), has recently reintroduced the bill, which if passed, could bring an end to the direct shipment of alcohol in the United States, and severely hinder the chance of legal recourse within each State against such restrictions. To be clear, there really isn’t much difference between the two bills apart from a new number and a new name.
Side-note, I always find it funny that Utah prides itself on being so moral, yet it remains the porn capital of the U.S.!


So Who Favors HR 1161?

For numerous reasons, the major wine, spirit and beer distributors are strong advocates for HR 1161, with the main reason being that it eliminates their competition i.e. wine clubs and online retailers.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association are such strong advocates of the bill that they are already cyber-squatting on,, and, as reported by Tom Wark on his excellent Fermentation blog.

Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America president and CEO Craig Wolf is a big proponent of the bill, and recently told the Wine Spectator magazine, “This is about whether or not you as a member of Congress believe states should have the authority to make policy decisions on alcohol. If you think the courts should have the authority to interfere with state policy decisions, then you’re going to disagree with us; if you think that the states should be making that policy predominantly, then you’re probably going to agree with us.”

The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America combined with the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Associations (WSWA), form two of the most powerful lobbying organizations in America according to, and “represent ONLY the interests of middlemen, not the state, not wineries, not retailers and certainly not consumers. Both these organizations have opposed wine shipping and have worked tirelessly to create regulations and laws that guarantee alcohol wholesalers get a cut of every bottle of wine sold in America—whether their services as middlemen are needed or not.”



What will it mean if HR 1161 passes?

Should HR 1161 pass, it will essentially give States the power to follow the wise words of alcohol wholesalers and deny wine lovers from purchasing imported wines, wines through clubs, rare wines and auctioned wines. This achieved by putting in place bans on shipments of wine from out of state retailers.
Congressman Mike Thompson (Democrat-California.), who represents Napa, Mendocino and parts of Sonoma, is a obviously not a huge fan of prohibiting winery direct shipping, and strongly opposes H.R. 1161, “The federal government has no business picking winners and losers in the wine, beer and distilled spirits industry. Yet the Act would do just that by banning the direct shipment of wine and other forms of alcohol in the U.S. The impact of this bill would be devastating for brewers, vintners, distillers, importers and consumers across our country.”



What can I personally do to oppose HR 1161?

If you really feel so strongly that you want to make your voice heard on HR 1161, the best thing to do is contact your Congressman. Forget about online petitions, they are completely worthless.

Click here to find your Congressperson in the U.S. House of Representatives

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