Nelson to Leave WineAmerica

Lobbyist for 800 wineries gave voice to national wine industry

by Jane Firstenfeld
Bill Nelson Wine America
Bill Nelson
Washington, D.C. -- Bill Nelson, who helped transform WineAmerica into a more influential lobbying group in support of the fast-growing U.S. wine industry, will leave the organization July 31. Nelson, who has contributed to Wines & Vines, addressing significant issues including the anti-direct shipping bill HR 3054 and the 2008 Farm Bill, joined the organization (then known as the American Vintners Association) as vice president in 1994 and was appointed president in 2006.

WineAmerica now counts more than 800 members from 48 states; it’s the only wine industry association with national membership. Under Nelson’s leadership, WineAmerica originated national programs including the Wine Market Council, which promotes wine consumption nationally. Upon its formation in 1991, Family Winemakers of California allied with the organization “to establish a channel for input on national issues and generate unity among small producers and growers across the United States,” according to the Family Winemakers website.

Nelson told Wines & Vines that his personal and professional plans “are a little bit in flux.” His departure, he said, has been in the works for some time, adding, “We all decided to cut costs.” He said that WineAmerica’s board of directors “hasn’t clarified what they’re going to do.” The organization already was functioning with a very lean staff: four full-time employees and a temporary worker, Nelson said. “Now, that’s going to be three-and-a-half.”

In a statement, Jim Ballard, chairman of the board, wrote, “WineAmerica is currently going through a transitional phase.” The board, he wrote, “views this transition as an opportunity to step back and reassess WineAmerica, its mission, its structure and function….Now is the perfect time to make sure WineAmerica is a good fit in the world as it evolves.” Ballard, winemaker at 10,000-case James Arthur Vineyards in Raymond, Neb., was not available for comment today.

Nelson, who grew up in New York, was a winemaker and consultant in Oregon in the 1970s. He became director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association in 1972, where he remained until joining WineAmerica. “I came into the political stuff,” he said, “because I got tired of hearing people (in the wine industry) complain about the state government.”

Now a seasoned lobbyist, he said he’s looking for some consulting work, but is not sure where he will land. He and his wife are weighing the possibility of returning to Oregon.
Posted on 07.31.2010 - 10:10:36 PST
So sorry to read of the recent departure of Bill Nelson, seasoned lobbyist, astute issue wrangler, wine expert and most excellent 5th Street neighbor who did his best to introduce us to some of the best wines around.
Bainbridge Island, WA USA