Regulating Wineries To Death in CA
I recall, a year or so ago, sitting in a public hearing of the Sonoma County General Plan Committee. Under discussion was the proposed regulation to be incuded in the new general plan that any winery in Sonoma County must buy 70% of its grapes from Sonoma County vineyards.
The proposed rule was meant to keep large "industrial" (as they called them) wineries that import grapes from across the state from sullying our county. The proposed ruled also was a grape grower protection act.
Now we read that El Dorado County, in the Sierra Foothills and a source of outstanding wines, is considering a similar rule, along with a number of others. In this case, the County lawmakers are very clear that the rule is meant to keep out "large-scale competition and earth-changing companies such as Gallo." Their ordinance would read that 50% of all grapes a winery uses in El Dorado County must come from El Dorado County vineyards.
I’m unaware of any other California law that provides that businesses MUST source their raw materials from within the county they produce their goods. And there is probably a good reason for this: It’s absurd.
It seems to me that if you want to limit the size of production facilities in a region the best way to do so is to place a restriction on the square footage of the processing plant or winery or even a place a restriction on the amount of wine that can be produced at a single winery.
By forcing wineries to buy a particular amount of grapes from within the county, wineries are essentially restricted to the kind of wine they produce. Why shouldn’t an El Dorado County winery be able to have a business plan that has them producing, say, a number of different Zinfandels from regions across the state, showcasing different vineyards and terroir. They wouldn’t be able to do this in El Dorado County if this new ordinance passes because…..well….just because, as far as I can tell.
Finally, it strikes me that if wineries are forced to obtain 50% of their grapes from El Dorado County vineyards, then El Dorado County vineyards ought to, by law, be forced to sell 50% of their grapes to El Dorado County wineries.
There is a preconceived notion at play in these sort of laws restricting what wineries can do. At play is the idea that wineries are born rich and prosperous, that their owners are rich and prosperous and, most important, that there is a certain frivolity to the winery business that makes them particularly attractive targets for regulations. These ideas arise, I think, in large part from the purely hedonistic act of visiting wineries, drinking wine and appreciating wine and the type of visible marketing that plays to that hedonistic pursuit.
This view of wine is in turn a result of the beverage never having been a staple of American life like rum and brown spirits were at one time and that beer is now. Everyone likes a cool, refreshing beer. But it’s the hoity toity that savor a glass of wine. It just makes it easier for populist politicians to push laws that hamstring wineries.