Starting a wine business involves a lot of decisions. We’ve been working a long time on our wine, but what to print before ‘Virage Vineyards’ on the back label (on the bottle) never entered my mind until I was unexpectedly confronted with the question.
We want to move wine production to Napa Wine Company, the collective winery known as “Cult Wine Central,” or, to the Federal government, “Bonded Winery No. 9.” For reference, I’m Bonded Winery No. 16682. So No. 9 is pretty darn cool.
Do we need to print “Produced by Virage Vineyards” on the backlabel, asked the General Manager? Or are we OK with “Cellared and Bottled by?” Hmmm, do you care? I have no opinion here. That makes the decision hard.
Here’s what’s going on:
Your Federal Government Departmet of the Treasury sports a Tax and Trade Bureau (“the TTB” as we call it) ostensibly in place to protect you from the perils of alcohol. Although the TTB is particularly concerned, if you ask me, with collection of excise tax payments. Excise tax is that sin tax on alcohol, tobacco, and firearms that finances our American way of life. Accordingly, they run a tight ship when it comes to being licensed as a ‘wine producer’ with a bonded winery premises, because the premises owner is the taxpayer. The word “bonded” means we put up a bond –like an insurance policy–to guarantee payment of tax, the $4 or so per case of wine the producer owes when alcohol is ‘removed’ from the bonded premises.
Virage possesses, today, an “alternating premises” permit, meaning we share equipment with other small producers at our winery (Laird Family). And we want to consider Napa Wine Company, where Aaron works already on other brands and wants to be in one place during harvest. I’d like to pour in their collective tasting room. At either location, we benefit from far more sophisticated equipment than our little brand could afford on its own (hence our price at half what others charge for similar quality).
But there’s a catch; Napa Wine Company can’t offer the same licensing arrangement as our existing winery. We can’t bring over our alternating premises license. We can’t write “produced by Virage Vineyards” on the bottle.
To be clear, under any license, our grape growing and winemaking is carefully controlled by us –this is not the “factory production” drama story some tell about “custom crush facilities.” We produce our wine, using shared equipment, a concept I love –it’s green, it’s economical, it’s the right thing to do for a tiny brand. Better to put our resources into great grapes and barrels than ‘stainless steel’ that we’d use once then put away for the year. But the difference in licensing means we have to write “Cellared by Virage Napa Valley” on the back label… as if we bought finished wine off the bulk market and had nothing to do with its production. Not really ideal.
Sometimes, I want to move to France. I don’t imagine these hurdles to exist in the “old world.”
What do you think?
(postscript – we moved to Silenus Vintners in Napa, and enjoyed pouring wine in the communal tasting room, but have really taken another big step since, moving to Alpha Omega Winery where the facility is near-new and phenomenally equipped, and we are permitted to be “alternating proprietors.”)