Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What is a Farm Winery?

A few weeks ago, the New York Department of Agriculture announced a decision aimed at helping farm wineries recover from the devastating Arctic Vortex event this past winter. This year, New York's farm wineries will be allowed to use out-of-state fruit to make their wines. Farm wineries in New York, by definition, must use 100% New York-grown fruit. Now, that may sound a bit draconian, but vintners have the choice of applying for a regular winery license or the more restrictive (and much cheaper) farm winery license. In addition to requiring 100% NY fruit, farm wineries are restricted to the amount of product they can sell. However, a farm winery may also "manufacture, bottle and sell fruit juice, fruit jellies and fruit preserves, tonics, salad dressings and unpotable wine sauces." Farm wineries can also operate "branch offices" (aka, tasting rooms).

That all seems fairly straight forward. When I saw a Facebook post about the decision I thought it was a one-time decision that attempted to skirt the definition of a farm winery. Turns out, it wasn't. The Department of Agriculture used a provision in the Alcohol Beverage Control Law that states: "(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this subdivision, no licensed farm winery shall manufacture or sell any wine not produced exclusively from grapes or other fruits or agricultural products grown or produced in New York state. (b) In the event that the commissioner of agriculture and markets, after investigating and compiling information pursuant to subdivision forty-two of section sixteen of the agriculture and markets law, determines that a natural disaster, act of God, or continued adverse weather condition has destroyed no less than forty percent of a specific grape varietal grown or produced in New York state and used for winemaking, the commissioner, in consultation with the chairman of the state liquor authority, may give authorization to a duly licensed farm winery to manufacture or sell wine produced from grapes grown outside this state." New York also allowed out-of-state fruit in 2005 because of winter kill events that dramatically reduced yield.

Chickens tending a Frontenac vine...
Colorado doesn't have a Farm Winery license. No winery is restricted from sourcing grapes (or bulk juice) from, say, California if they so desired. For vintners in Colorado, there are three options. First, almost every winery in the state is a licensed Limited Winery. Limited wineries may produce no more than 100,000 gallons (roughly 42,000 cases). Limited wineries are allowed to wholesale their wine and operate up to five off-site tasting rooms. The license fee is also less than the Manufacturer's license option. Manufacturers may produce more than 100,000 gallons of wine. A third option for winemakers in Colorado is the Vintner's Restaurant. Vintner's Restaurants are actually licensed as restaurants (not wineries) that may produce their own wine (up to 50,000 gallons). They must sell food and may also have a full bar of beer and liquor.

The Colorado Limited Winery definition used to contain a provision for requiring at least 50% Colorado-grown fruit, but a lawsuit in the mid 1990s saw that requirment removed. In 2005, the Limited Winery statute was amended to include the ability of a winery to use the phrase "Colorado Grown" on a label. "Colorado grown" means wine produced from one hundred percent Colorado-grown grapes, other fruits, or other agricultural products containing natural sugar, such as honey. However, no winery is required to use "Colorado Grown" for any of their products.

Many other states still have a farm winery license in statute. Connecticut requires only 25% of a farm winery's fruit come from Connecticut. Kansas law requires more than 30% of the products utilized in the manufacture of table and fortified wine by a farm winery be grown in Kansas. In Minnesota, a majority of product used to manufacturer wine must be Minnesota grown. Nebraska's requirement for a farm winery is at least 75% of the finished product be grown in the state. Arizona requires five producing acres of land owned or controlled by a farm winery and that the land has been devoted to fruit growing for at least three consecutive calendar years. Tennessee, Virginia and Rhode Island also have farm winery licenses. I'm sure other states do as well, but I've read enough wine-related statutes for the time being.

So, back to the issue at hand in New York. Is the requirement of 100% NY fruit too high? Is the provision to ignore the requirement in bad years a good thing or does it diminish what it means to be a farm winery? I know producers in Colorado are grateful for the ability to use out-of-state fruit. Many try to use as much CO fruit as possible, but when harsh weather hits, as it has four out of the last five years, sometimes there is no fruit to be found in Colorado.

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