One of Sacramento’s signature food and drink festivals is coming back after a year’s hiatus, and its vendors can finally promote their participation on social media without running afoul of the law.
Save Mart Grape Escape returns to Cesar Chavez Plaza on June 4 with three hours of feasting and drinking from regional restaurants and adult beverage vendors. The annual event, which typically hosts crowds of more than 4,000, went dark in 2015 after vendors feared their participation would result in California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control violations.
The problems stemmed from the 2014 edition of Grape Escape, in which eight alcohol companies were investigated by the ABC following the event. Revolution Wines of Sacramento was among the companies facing a 10-day suspension of its license because of violating “tied house” laws, a post-Prohibition system that in part prevents alcohol companies from promoting retailers. In the case of Revolution Wines, a 95-character Tweet that mentioned Save Mart, the event’s major sponsor, was construed by the ABC as providing free advertising and violated tied-house laws.
But recent legislation cleared the way for Grape Escape to return. Assembly Bill 776 by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October and eased some tied-house laws related to social media. In part, alcohol producers can now promote their participation of a retailer-sponsored event on social media if a nonprofit organization runs the event and benefits from it.
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Grape Escape, which was founded in 2001 by the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, is a nonprofit event that seeks to promote the area’s food and drink industry and draw tourists downtown.
“Our participating wineries and breweries can safely and confidently promote this highly anticipated event without fear of breaking outdated laws,” said Steve Hammond, president and chief operating officer of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The whole fight did not only make it easier for those of us here in Sacramento to do events ... but events like these up and down the state of California.”
The fallout from Grape Escape 2014 was felt throughout California’s multibillion-dollar alcoholic beverage industry. At the 2015 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, a major wine industry gathering held annually in Sacramento, clarification on tied-house laws emerged as a key seminar topic. Some producers curbed their social media usage and pulled back from pouring at nonprofit events around the state.
With only three weeks remaining until Grape Escape 2015, only three wineries had signed on to participate. Grape Escape typically includes 40 wineries and 10 breweries. Organizers considered buying wine and beer themselves to serve for the crowds, but ultimately opted to scrap Grape Escape, which typically results in 700 hotel rooms booked throughout downtown.
Officials with the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau reached out to Cooper, whose district encompasses portions of Lodi’s wine country. Cooper introduced AB 776, which among other provisions eased some restrictions related to social media posts that mentioned retailers.
“This legislation is about so much more than special events,” said Cooper. “It’s about reforming antiquated laws so California businesses can showcase their products without fear of suspension.”
Now, Revolution Wines is back on board to participate in June’s Grape Escape. Staff from the midtown Sacramento-based winery still plan on playing it safe with social media, even with AB 776 on their side.
“There was a lot of gray area,” said Colleen Sullivan, production manager for Revolution Wines, about the law prior to AB 776. “It was kind of hard for us to deal with, so we laid back on social media and didn’t do much else. Since then the rule has changed, but we’re still very cautious about what we post.”
Grape Escape 2016 is part of a weekend dubbed “Farm-to-Fork Taste of Summer,” which is presented by the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau under its promotion of Sacramento as “America’s Farm-To-Fork Capital.” Along with Grape Escape on June 4, the weekend includes winemaker dinners at local restaurants on June 3 and a brunch event on June 5.
Grape Escape tickets cost $39 in advance at Save Mart stores, $45 in advance online and $55 at the door. For more information: www.farmtofork.com/savemartgrapeescape.