A wrinkle in state law has kept Californians from entering contests sponsored by alcoholic beverage companies, including the Modesto area's big wineries.
That will change as of 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed a bill that overturns a ban that has been enforced by state regulators for more than a decade.
The Wine Institute, a statewide industry group that sought the change, said contests "provide a winery with an important tool to build brand awareness with its consumer base, which is a challenge with over 8,000 wineries in the U.S. alone."
The contests can be drawings for merchandise, vacations or other prizes, or they can test people's skill at cooking, photography or other pursuits.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control tightened the rules in 1999 in response to "an overly aggressive brewer marketing program," according to an analysis of the bill by the state Senate staff.
It said a beer maker ran a contest "where increasingly attractive gifts could be redeemed based on the quantities of alcohol consumed
California was alone among the 50 states in barring the contests.
The legislation, Senate Bill 778, was carried by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles. It passed on votes of 37-0 in the Senate and 75-4 in the Assembly in August. No lawmaker in or near Stanislaus County was opposed.
Contests will have restrictions under the new law. They cannot involve the consumption of wine, beer or liquor, nor can they offer alcohol as a prize. Entrants must be 21 or older.
The bill was opposed by Alcohol Justice, a group based in San Rafael that tries to counter the influence of wine, beer and liquor producers.
"We are deeply disturbed by this election year gift to Big Alcohol," public affairs director Michael Scippa said in a news release after the August votes. "We are calling upon Gov. Brown to veto this irresponsible measure because overturning the state's existing ban on alcohol-related contests will lead to increased over-consumption and increased public health and safety costs."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
AT A GLANCE
A sampling of winery contests that were off-limits to California residents under state law:
2011: E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto promoted its Barefoot brand with a drawing to see country music star Jake Owen, who had a hit with "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," in concert in Vero Beach, Fla.
2011: Concannon Vineyard near Livermore offered entrants $20,000 in a drawing for use on the "family reunion of their dreams." The brand is part of The Wine Group, which also owns the former Franzia winery near Ripon.
2009: Gallo promoted its Carlo Rossi brand with an essay contest that made light of the wine's lower-end image. The prize was $10,000 worth of furnishings "to help you create a den that Carlo would be proud of."
2009: Gallo did something similar with its Livingston Cellars brand, asking essay writers to describe how they "live the Livingston life" by enjoying family, friends, travel and community work. The four winners got trips to "California wine country," by which Gallo meant the Modesto area.