TTB to Grant Tax Breaks to Wineries with Earthquake Damage

On August 29, 2014, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) published an announcement entitled “Napa Earthquake: Frequently Asked Questions,” which addresses many questions and concerns raised by wineries in the wake of the August 24th earthquake.

TTB announced that retailers, wholesalers and importers of wine [Read more…]

California Legislature Adopts Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

For the first time in California’s history, groundwater extraction and usage will be comprehensively regulated.  At the end of August, the California legislature adopted a package of bills (SB 1168, SB 1319 and AB 1739), collectively known as the “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.”  On September 16th, Governor Brown [Read more…]

What does your Lease, Custom Crush, or Alternating Proprietorship Agreement say about Earthquake Damage?

The Napa earthquake of August 24, 2014, reminded us of how we can never be too prepared for such an event, from safety in our homes to security in our business interests.  Given the earthquake’s effect on various commercial and agricultural interests in Napa, we have prepared the following list of 5 things commercial landlords and wineries with custom crush or alternating proprietorship arrangements should determine [Read more…]

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 rick.marshall@countyofnapa.org.

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…]

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