“Shared Spirits features a special influencer today. GSRM Attorney and Former Interim Director of the Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission,  Ginna Winfree.”

Ginna is an attorney at the law firm of Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin (GSRM). Her practice is focused on all aspects of alcoholic beverage licensing and regulation. Prior to joining GSRM, Ginna served as Assistant Director and, most recently, as Interim Director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). Ginna’s hands-on experience working at the TABC truly gives her a competitive edge and tangible insight into what is needed to overcome any challenges regarding her client’s licensing and/or other alcoholic beverage initiatives. Ginna is professionally connected to many of the decision makers in the alcoholic beverage industry. She understands, from having done the job herself, the often specific information administrators require to realize her client’s desired outcome. Ginna’s practical skills allow her to streamline the licensing process, saving her clients both time and resources.

Ginna’s clients include the restaurants, hotels, bars, clubs, resorts and other venues who serve and/or sell alcoholic beverages, as well as manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers of alcoholic beverages in both Tennessee and beyond state lines. She counsels clients on the full spectrum of alcoholic beverage law disciplines, ranging from state and federal liquor license requirements; to regulatory, entitlement and enforcement matters; to temporary and emergency suspension hearings. Ginna is also involved in probation and consent order violations, disciplinary orders and appeals. In addition, Ginna works productively with the TABC regarding citations, enforcement matters, administrative hearings and other court actions pertaining to alcoholic beverage-related ordinances, statutes and regulations.

With a steadfast focus on getting to yes in all types of negotiations, Ginna consistently delivers outstanding communication abilities. She is proficient in applying the law to everyday business scenarios, particularly when working with antagonistic or difficult personalities. Ginna is not easily daunted by obstacles. Her calm demeanor and multi-dimensional capacity to listen often result in the creation of mutually beneficial solutions that may seem unattainable at the preliminary discussion stage.

Ginna has served as an invited speaker and industry commentator on topics related to the alcoholic beverage industry. She is also the Southern Regional Vice Chair and member of the Board of Directors for the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators.

Sherman: Ginna, many thanks for joining me today. It’s rare that former Regulators are featured on marketing sites. I happen to feel that your expertise is key in equipping brands, marketers and venues in navigating the beverage industry space. You were in the eye of the storm as it pertains to regulatory negotiations relating to wine in grocery stores in the state of Tennessee. For those outside the state of Tennessee, it wasn’t until the Summer of 2016 that consumers could purchase wine in grocery stores in Tennessee.

What was the primary issue relating to that change in the state laws? I know retailers had issues that had to be dealt with and grocery stores wanted access to wine as quickly as possible. 

Ginna: There were lots of issues.  Probably the first big hurdle had to do with the 500 foot rule that stated if a grocery store that wanted to sell wine was within 500 feet of an existing retail package store, then that store had to give permission to allow the grocery stores to sell wine in 2017, otherwise they would have to wait until 2018. That led to a good bit of confusion. Thankfully that portion of the law was repealed, so we were able to dispose of those issues.  The next big issue was stocking.  The law had to be amended to allow grocery stores to stock and store wine prior to July 1st.  When the law was first passed that was just a logistical issue that was overlooked.  There was no way that the wine could go on sale to the consumer on July 1st, without an amendment allowing for the delivery and pre-stocking. 

Sherman: What role did you get to play in navigating the regulatory negotiations? 

Ginna: Not much of one.  The industry stakeholders were the ones who really did the negotiations. The job of the TABC is to advise on how the laws can be implemented and to point out potential issues with the implementation. There were plenty of capable legislative lawyers that could advise on the legal technicalities.

Sherman: In a case like that, I’m assuming it’s impossible to please everyone. Was it a tough time at the Alcohol Beverage Commission or was your team simply the messenger around the laws and regs? 

Ginna: It was a difficult time.  There were lots of changes to prepare for and there were no rules, so they had to be drafted.  The rules are there to supplement the statutes and fill in things that weren’t covered or to clarify things that are murky. You have to look at the law and then try to anticipate the issues that might arise and try to make rules to deal with them.  Fortunately, I think the different industries worked well together, so it came together without as many issues as anticipated.

Sherman: When someone launches a brand in Tennessee, is there a significant difference between starting a distillery, vineyard, or brewery? 

Ginna: There are definitely more hoops to jump through for a distillery and brewery than for a winery.  Although the bigger issues for distilleries and breweries are usually federal issues.  The biggest issue with TTB (Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) is its backlog.  It takes about six (6) months from application submission to permit issuance, so anyone that needs to be permitted by the TTB needs to be aware of that delay and have financially planned for it. You can’t receive your TABC permit until you have your TTB permit, so you just have to wait it out. 

Sherman: It appears to me and many others outside the manufacturing of beverages that the regulatory environment in Tennessee revolves around politics and not what is in the best interests of consumers. Consumers want access, convenience, and less hassle. Is the tide changing? Will Tennessee’s regulatory environment one day offer wine on Sundays, spirits in stores, and easier pathways to opening businesses? 

Ginna:  It took is a long time to get wine in grocery stores, so I don’t think that spirits in grocery stores is coming for a while, but Sunday sales will probably come up again the next legislative session.  I think the new administration at the TABC is working hard to make the current system as hassle free and business friendly as possible.

Sherman: You’ve become familiar with Tennessee’s regulatory environment in ways that few others have. How do we rank with other states as it pertains to the ease of doing business? 

Ginna:  I would say we rank somewhere in the middle.  That sounds like a cop out answer, but it’s true. 

Sherman: There are nearly two dozen licenses available around spirits and wine through the ABC in Tennessee. Share with us what kind of work you’re most seeking at GSRM. What types of companies need to be contacting you for your expertise and counsel? 

Ginna: There was definitely an influx of wine in grocery store applicants this past year.  There has also been quite a hotel boom in Nashville, so we’ve worked on our fair share of hotel licenses this year.  Distilleries continue to open, which is great since Tennessee is launching a Whiskey Trail.  We also stay busy with retail package stores and restaurants opening.  Nashville is great place to be right now.  If you are opening a business that involves alcohol, we can help you.  We want to start you out on the right foot and help you to remain in compliance with all regulating agencies (federal, state and local).  Alcohol regulations are often times difficult to understand and sometimes even contradictory.  We are here to simplify this process for our clients.

Sherman: Nashville’s growth on the bar and venue side has been stellar with the rise of our tourist population. 13.2 million just last year. I’m assuming that new venues and concepts coming to town would be well served to have a visit with you. What are the primary issues around alcohol regulation that bars and restaurants need to be most concerned about in the state of Tennessee? 

Ginna: Bars always need to be concerned with not serving anyone under 21 and not serving anyone who is visibly intoxicated.  If they can do that, then almost anything else is workable.

Sherman: What might I have missed Ginna? Are there some key concerns or things to be aware of when doing business in Tennessee that I have failed to bring up? 

Ginna: People need to be aware that alcohol laws vary greatly by state and even by city in some cases, so never make an assumption regarding alcohol laws. 

Sherman: Many thanks again Ginna. I feel our readership now has a really significant resource available they can reach out to relative to all regulatory issues in the state of Tennessee. It’s been a pleasure.  What are the best ways to reach you and what might a potential distillery, vineyard, brewery or venue owner expect from their first visit with you? 

Ginna: Thank you. On your first visit with me, we will discuss your timeframes.  The timing of filings and outlining potential issues that could cause a delay is the first step.

I can be reached at 615-244-4994 or gwinfree@gsrm.com.  You can also visit our website: gsrm.com and our alcohol blog at gsrmalcoholicbeveragelaw.com.