Winery Audit Finds Violations of Use Permit Restrictions:

Napa County’s random audit of twenty wineries last year found that eight failed to comply with their use permits.  The violations were primarily based either on exceeding permitted production limits or having more visitors than allowed under the permit.

Every year, the Napa County Planning Department randomly selects twenty wineries and conducts an audit to determine whether each winery’s total gallons of wine produced is within its limit; whether the winery is complying with the requirement that the wine be made with at least 75 percent Napa County grapes; and whether its visitation and marketing plans are up to code. 

The results were discussed by the Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday, August 6th.  Among the topics of conversation was whether the county was doing enough to ensure that wineries are complying with their use permits.

The results of the most recent audit could lead the county to pursue more stringent enforcement.  Wineries in Napa County should be cognizant of their use permit restrictions and ensure that their operations are in compliance.

North Coast Growers Appeal Russian River Water Ruling to California Supreme Court:

On Friday, Redwood Valley grape grower Rudy Light asked the California Supreme Court to review a June 16th ruling by a San Francisco appellate court that reversed Mendocino County Judge Ann Moorman’s ruling, and restored the California State Water Resources Control Board’s authority to prohibit grape growers in the Russian River Valley from drawing water from the river during times of frost.  That ruling was described in a Wine Trio post published last month, which can be found here.  

The lengthy legal dispute stems from an incident in 2008 when approximately 25,000 young salmon were found dead along the banks of the Russian River, which the National Marine Fisheries Service attributed to sudden decreases in water levels due to spraying by growers to protect their crops from frost.

Light and another group of plaintiffs, the Russian River Water Users, who also planned to file an appeal in a different proceeding this past week, want the lower court ruling to stand.  Trial court Judge Ann Moorman said in her decision that the Board’s regulations infringed on the growers’ water rights and wrongly required farmers to gather information and create regulations themselves at a great expense.  In overturning her decision, the appellate court found that several sections of the state’s water code give the Board the authority to prevent unreasonable water use.

Updates to Napa County Lot Line Adjustment Ordinance:

On July 8, 2014, the Napa County Public Works department held a meeting at the Napa County Administration building to announce and discuss potential updates and changes to the Napa County Lot Line Adjustment Ordinance.

Some of the more significant potential changes to the Lot Line Adjustment Ordinance include clarifying requirements for providing consent to the application when the owner of the property is a corporation, limited liability company, or limited partnership; checking California Subdivision Map Act compliance upon submittal of the application and providing applicants with the opportunity to remedy noncompliance (if possible); and granting an extension of time for recording of final deeds (which under the current ordinance must occur within 365 days after tentative approval) when the applicant is having difficulty obtaining a modification or partial release of an encumbrance against the property from their lender.

Interested parties may submit their comments or suggestions for changes to the Lot Line Adjustment Ordinance to the Napa County Director of Public Works and County Surveyor, Rick Marshall, by mid-August.  He may be reached at

Changes to California Farm Labor Contractor Signage Requirements:

Effective July 1, 2014, vineyard management companies and Farm Labor Contractors are required to prominently display a sign at the entrance to each vineyard property where vineyard crews are working, or risk losing their Farm Labor Contractor’s license.  The following information must appear on such signs:

            Top Portion of Sign:

  • Name of Licensee
  • Farm Labor Contractor License Number

Bottom Portion of Sign:

  • Licensee’s Field Supervisor Name
  • Licensee’s Field Supervisor Working Phone Number

Other requirements for the signs include that they be a least 4 feet by 4 feet in size; that the bottom of the sign be at least 12 inches from the ground; that they are clearly visible from access roads; and that they located where workers enter the worksite daily.  Vineyard management companies and Farm Labor Contractors should note that these state requirements supersede Napa County signage ordinances.

You can find a summary of regulatory changes to Farm Labor Contractor licensing requirements here.

U.S. Commercial Service Provides Services for U.S. Businesses Expanding Abroad:

Expanding your wine business into international markets is an exciting, but intimidating undertaking.  Domestic companies are likely unfamiliar with legal and regulatory issues associated with exporting, and need help navigating customs requirements and even finding local partners.  The U.S. Commercial Service, a division of the United States Department of Commerce, provides services (many of which are free) [Read more...]

Court Restores Water Control Board’s Right to Limit Russian River Water Use:

On June 16th, a San Francisco appellate court ruled that the California State Water Resources Control Board (the “Board”) may prohibit grape growers in the Russian River Valley from “using water in an unreasonable manner,” overturning a previous decision by a Mendocino County judge that the Board lacked authority to restrict long time users of river water.

 The case stems from an incident in April 2008, [Read more...]

TTB Reconsiders Position on Use of “Estate Bottled” after Sale of Winery:

 Recently, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) issued a private letter ruling which provides guidance of the use of an “Estate Bottled” claim on a wine label following the sale of the bottling winery.

 Previously, TTB took the position that the new proprietor could not use the “Estate Bottled” designation because technically it would not have “controlled” all stages of the winemaking process prior to the purchase.  [Read more...]


According to a recent bank report by Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division, the owners of more than 10 percent of the wineries on the West Coast are hoping to sell within the next five years, which would put more than 500 wineries on the market.  The report concludes that nearly 15 percent of wineries in Napa County and 13 percent of wineries in Sonoma County are likely to be offered for sale. 

Acquiring or selling a winery is [Read more...]


When the issue of non-payment arises, some growers may not realize that they hold a lien in the fruit they delivered to a winery and any subsequent wine produced from that fruit under California Food & Agriculture Code §§ 55631 et seq.  This is commonly referred to as the “Producer’s Lien.” 

In the landmark case of Frazier Nuts, Inc. v. American Ag Credit, a California court [Read more...]


Growers in the “Petaluma Gap” region of Sonoma County have decided to petition the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) for their own American Viticulture Area or “AVA.”  Located near the town of Petaluma, this region is known for its production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.   

AVA’s are defined as “delimited grape growing regions distinguished by [Read more...]


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