In early August, the Senate approved the appropriations bill with an amendment from Thurmond that would prohibit the Foreign Agricultural Service from promoting the sale or export of alcoholic beverages. The legislation would have completely eliminated the wine industry's matching funds under the "Market Access Program," which helps support promotions in foreign markets, such as participation in overseas trade and consumer shows.
However, the House version of the bill did not contain such provisions. After lobbying from winery trade groups, conference committee members cut Thurmond's proposal from consideration for the final version.
"They have indicated it was dropped in conference committee," confirmed Thurmond's spokesman, John DeCrosta. "From the senator's perspective, anyway you cut this, using federal dollars to promote alcohol sales overseas is just wrong. Whether it's from a public policy perspective or a financial perspective, it's just bad policy and should be changed. We'll probably take a look at this again next year."
The final version of the appropriations bill is currently stalled over other issues, so it's not clear how much money the wine industry will receive for the upcoming fiscal year -- though the original House bill provided about $3.5 million. In the 1999 fiscal year, the wine industry received $3.6 million, which went mostly to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, as well as to the Northwest Wine Promotion Coalition and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation.
In addition, the tentative agreement struck by legislators would provide just over $2 million for viticulture and enology research -- including sustainable vineyard practices and grape rootstock development -- to be done by researchers at the University of California at Davis, Cornell University in New York and the University of Idaho.