By STEVE BROWN
Initiative 1183, recently approved by almost 59 percent of Washington voters, will have definite effects on the wine industry in the state, but exactly what those effects will be are up in the air.
Under I1183, the state will close its liquor stores, sell its assets and license private parties to distribute and to sell spirits in retail stores. The measure will establish licensing fees for sales and distribution, based on licensee's sales revenues. And it will change some wine distribution laws and allow non-uniform wholesale pricing for wine and spirits.
Charles Brun, horticultural adviser with the Washington State University Extension, said the main change he sees is "you don't have to go through a distributor."
Walt Houser, who grows grapes and produces wine at Bethany Vineyard near Vancouver, Wash., said he has worked well with distributors, but the new arrangement should allow him to retain more of his investment.
Gesturing at the equipment in his winery, he said, "I own everything, but it costs me an average of $6 to make a bottle of wine. If you have a $20 wine, generally you have to sell it for $10" to a distributor.
In a letter to Brun, Michelle Moyer of WSU Extension said she has heard that the wine community expects the initiative will allow more venues to sell wine. More venues mean more awareness of Washington wines, hence more sales, she said. "The flip argument is that this will also force a little more price competition into the game, which vintners may not appreciate at first, but what they lose on price per bottle should hopefully be made up in volume."
Also, Moyer said, licensing fees likely will benefit research in wine and grapes.
According to a news release from the Washington Wine Institute, I-1183 would repeal the current prohibition on "retail to retail" sales. This change would enable larger outlets to sell their wines to smaller retailers, so wineries in the larger outlets would have more convenient access to smaller retailers.