The five-headed boss of wineries

We all want it – the “dream job.” For winery owners, this means marrying their passion for wine with their preference for being the head honcho of a successful business. But even entrepreneurs have a bigger boss to answer to – regulatory authorities. When the business is a winery, the owner (or owners, as the case may be) must meet the standards of and get approval from at least five agencies. Regulation from each of these bodies is often overlapping, which can make it difficult to determine which one trumps the other.

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This is the first agency you must go to for permission to open a winery. The TTB certifies appellation accuracy, issues licenses, determines production standards, regulates labeling, collects federal alcohol taxes, governs importation and exportation, and monitors advertising.

New York State Liquor Authority (SLA). The SLA’s primary agency is the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control, but the SLA does most of the legwork. It issues state licenses and permits, regulates trade and credit practices for the sale and distribution at wholesale and retail levels, and inspects premises.

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. This Department typically covers agricultural matters, including the use of grapes, as well as the production, processing, transportation, storage, marketing, and distribution of food products. It performs inspections of food & beverage manufacturers, establishes standards for pesticide use and for grading grape quality and classification. New York is notorious for recognizing the significance of the impact of agriculture on its economy, so it limits the reach that the local communities have on these areas. The Department’s authority often supersedes that of local community’s regarding zoning, so understanding its definitions and rules is important when you face issues with the municipality’s zoning determinations.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Depending on production volume and practices, winemaking can have a serious impact on water resources and the ability to remove waste. The DEC issues wastewater management and storm water industrial permits for food processing. It also governs solid waste disposal. Most wineries have to go through some type of environmental review as part of the approval process.

Local municipality. The more complex the operation, the more heads your boss will carry.  Many wineries include secondary operations for their business, such as selling wine-related items, hosting special events, or running a restaurant or bed-and-breakfast on the property. These additions will involve even other authorities, including the County Health and Town or City Building Departments.

If you own or are thinking of starting a winery, make sure you understand the requirements imposed by each authority that will regulate where and how you run your business.