Wine Column: Q&A on the new winery legislation

08/15/2011 2:35 PM |

On July 22, according to a press release by his office, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he has “signed legislation to significantly reduce the regulatory burdens placed on farm wineries by the State Liquor Authority.”

Why, you may wonder, is this state agency, the SLA, burdensome in the first place? To understand that, you need to understand how the agency was formed to regulate alcohol beverages after the repeal of Prohibition. Since all alcohol being sold before that was, by definition, being sold by criminals, all who made or sold alcohol were henceforth assumed to be criminals. At the very least, they were considered dicey individuals who needed to be monitored.

More importantly, the SLA was (and is) regarded as a source of state revenue. Therefore, it is charged with collecting fees and taxes on many sorts of alcohol-related activities.

The federal government also regulates wineries, but not because it cares about wine quality. It collects revenue, too. The Department of the Treasury regulates wineries via its Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. As you can see, the same people chase after illegal cigarettes and bootlegged hootch. Fortunately, a few years ago they took guns away from the TTB — it used to be the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Agents who make inspection visits to local wineries are delighted to be checking for errors in volume reporting in bottles of wine rather than chasing down illegal weapons.

Here is a quiz to see how much you know about the evolving burdens of these agencies (see answers at the end):

1. New York Farm wineries could not but now may:
a. give wine to more than five charities per year.
b. allow dogs in the tasting room.
c. serve children under the age of 18.

2. New York Farm wineries no longer need to:
a. keep records of out-of-state sales.
b. send records of out-of-state sales to the SLA.
c. pay taxes on wines shipped out of state.

3. New York Farm Wineries may now operate:
a. as many satellite stores as they want, but each must be separately licensed.
b. up to five branch stores, with the same restrictions as winery tasting rooms.
c. fairs and festivals without special permits.

4. Bars serving alcohol in New York must offer food for sale; farm wineries:
a. must also sell food.
b. must sell coffee.
c. may sell food, but (except at catered events) only those foods that can be eaten while walking around.

5. Wine sold in New York must have its label approved:
a. by the TTB.
b. by the SLA.
c. Farm wineries are exempt from label approval if they make under 2,000 gallons.

6. Several Long Island wineries recently needed to appeal for help from legislators to get label approvals because:
a. they neglected to pay an extra fee to a label approval expeditor.
b. their labels showed the net contents in ounces, not milliliters.
c. the TTB is understaffed since many employees were shifted to homeland security, and approvals are backed up.

7. A Health Warning Statement is required on labels of all beverages:
a. with over 0.5 percent alcohol.
b. with over 10 percent alcohol.
c. made from grapes.

8. The tax per gallon owed by a winery on wines with under 14 percent alcohol is:
a. $0.14
b. $1.07
c. $ 3.30

9. The tax per gallon owed by a winery on artificially sparkling wines is:
a. $0.14
b. $1.07
c. $ 3.30

10. The contents of a container of wine in bulk must be stated:
a. in gallons, but in milliliters once bottled.
b. in gallons, but in ounces once bottled.
c. in liters, but in milliliters once bottled.

11. Winery owners must be fingerprinted at the local police station:
a. False
b. True

12. Like wines from controlled appellations in the European Union, American wines are subject to quality assessment panels.
a. True
b. False

13. American wineries may make alcoholic beverages from grapes but not from:
a. corn, wheat or potatoes
b. hops, except in mead
c. pears

14. Wine production in New York State has increased in the past 20 years by:
a. 23 percent
b. 50 percent
c. 79 percent

15. A few years ago, Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue was shut down on an October weekend for selling:
a. vodka
b. bottled water
c. logo hats

Answers: 1-a, 2-b, 3-b, 4-c, 5-a, 6-c, 7-a, 8-b, 9-c, 10-a, 11-b, 12-b, 13-a and b, 14-b, 15-b (Some SLA laws were altered in response to the ridiculousness of that event.)

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.