Category Archives: Wine Compliance

Talking wine label compliance with Rob Mondavi
Posted on 2015-04-28 by Ann Reynolds

Winery compliance as a profession is a rare and generally unknown one. Most people I meet have no idea what the term “winery compliance” means. One of the easiest ways to explain what it is that I do is to point to a wine label and state “everything that you see there is regulated by the federal, and potentially state government and wineries are required to maintain records to back them up”. Their faces will light up and they’ll nod their heads with an “I get it” sort of look.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a wine label, so as part of my business I have a lot of conversations with clients around the topic. These conversations are most often in the label design stage of planning for a bottling. We talk about the specific details of their wine’s blend breakdown (Vintage, varietal, appellation, etc) and based on what those are then tells us what it will or won’t qualify to list on its labels.

I had one of these conversations recently with client, colleague and friend Rob Mondavi, President of winemaking for Michael Mondavi Family Estate who had a few questions around the use of two common wine label items, AVAs and vineyard names. He would tell me the percents of a wine blend and then ask whether an AVA or vineyard name could be listed on either the wine’s front or back label, or both.

For the first topic of listing an AVA, his question was if a wine blend was sourced from two of Napa Valley’s sub AVAs could they both be listed on the back label? The answer: no. The federal requirements (TTB) for use of an AVA on a wine label require that a minimum of 85% of the grapes used to make the wine blend must come from that AVA. So then the math would never work to list more than one AVA on any wine label. I will point out the “exception” to this is in the case of listing a sub AVA and its parent AVA on either the front or a back label. For example, for a wine with 85% or more of its grapes coming from the Atlas Peak AVA, it could list “Atlas Peak, Napa Valley” on either label. (Note: It would also be required to list both per CA state law – see earlier blog post on this topic)

The next topic we discussed was the use of vineyard names on a wine label. Rob wanted to know about listing more than one vineyard site on a back label. This would be acceptable to the TTB. They would require the vineyard source information to be listed in either of the following formats. Either the vineyard sources would be listed by name in descending order OR each vineyard would be listed by name along with it’s actual percent in the blend. 

This is different from listing a vineyard name on a wine’s front label. In that situation, use of a vineyard name becomes what is known as a “vineyard designate” and then per TTB requirements the wine blend must contain at least 95% of its grapes from that specific vineyard site. 

These are fun and satisfying conversations for me to have with my clients. They exercise my wine label compliance muscles, and at the same time provide bite size pieces of learning for my clients. (The best way to learn winery compliance) Rob was doing his best to stump me during this conversation- and as he put it, “I’d really like to believe that you’re incorrect, but unfortunately realize that more than likely you’re not”. In other words the legal ins and outs of wine label regulations often don’t make sense to the folks being regulated by them, but they’ll play by their rules to maintain that “truth in advertising”.

If you want to know the full story on all federally regulated wine label items, you may be interested in my book, The Inside Story of a Wine Label.

 





Chiropractic adjustments for your winery compliance
Posted on 2015-04-22 by Ann Reynolds

In my weekly email newsletter sent out yesterday I talked to my readers about the benefits I’ve received over the years from getting chiropractic adjustments and how I recently recognized a parallel between them and the common “pains” I see in the world of winery compliance.

The parallel being that some simple adjustments can be made in how wineries are handling their required TTB compliance which will result in the current “pains” they are experiencing going away.

When we decide to have chiropractic treatments, it is because our bodies either have been injured or have become out of alignment from other sources and the adjustments put them back into proper alignment so they can function effectively as they are supposed to, and free from pain. However, once our bodies are put back into proper alignment then it is up to us to maintain that, otherwise the pain will resurface.

What do some adjustments look like in the world of TTB winery compliance?

1. Knowing exactly what required winemaking records they need to be maintaining and the specifics of setting them up to meet TTB requirements. (State & local here too)

2. Having a plan for exactly how your required reports are managed. This includes a set schedule for filing them & assigning their responsibility to the best person(s) for the job.

3. Having a big picture “blueprint” which encompasses all of their winery site’s local, state & federal licenses and how each of those are connected to the others as far as their required records or reports.  The management of this “blueprint” also needs to be assigned to a best fit staff member or members. By best fit here has everything to do with their aptitude and attitude towards the rather maze like qualities of winery compliance. Too often I see these tasks being assigned to the wrong staff members, which is a cause of the wineries “pains”.

Where can a winery compliance adjustment be obtained?

Training!   I’m hosting my next live training course on Tuesday, May 12th in Placerville, CA.

For full info follow the link below.

Winery Compliance: On the road





Wineries: How is your compliance confidence?
Posted on 2015-04-08 by Ann Reynolds

Winery compliance is  (more often than not) a conundrum. A conundrum is defined as “a difficult and intricate problem”. I think most winery staff who have had the responsibility of trying to figure out their winery’s TTB 702 report filings, excise taxes or label approvals would agree with me. So if you’re reading this and nodding in agreement, know that you’re definitely not alone. We’ve all been there. (Or still are!) I was there myself once upon a time!

Add to this “conundrum” nature of winery compliance the fact that it is just one item on the long list of overall responsibilities held by the winery staff  who manage it.

What does this mean for most wineries? They combine this “difficult and intricate problem”  with not a lot of time to learn how to solve it and that adds up to improper record keeping, incorrectly filed reports, claiming TTB tax credits they don’t qualify for and wine labels that are out of compliance. These are the most common scenarios I see and hear about firsthand from winery staff in all parts of the country. So TTB compliance remains on some level a constant conundrum that hovers in the background for winery owners and staff, leaving them feeling ill at ease and often vulnerable to being audited.

I think at the end of the day the winery staff that are responsible for managing any required TTB filings would like to have a sense of confidence around it. Confidence that you know you’re filing your numbers correctly, paying taxes at the rate you qualify for and that your wine labels would pass TTB review. (just to name a few!)

There are some fairly simple ways this can be achieved. A brief checklist to begin with, which will start a winery down the path of assessing the key problem areas associated with TTB audits, and whether or not their winery is at issue for them. From there they can begin to fill any holes they may have in the different areas of their TTB compliance.

I’ve created a brief questionnaire wineries can use to start this process which can be accessed here:

5 Step Winery Compliance Self Check





AVAs on Wine Labels: Continued
Posted on 2015-03-31 by Ann Reynolds

Last week I wrote about the conjunctive labeling laws on the books here in California – and specifically the requirement of placing the parent AVA, Napa Valley next to any sub-AVA of it that is listed on any labels placed on a bottle of wine.

I realized this topic ties directly in with a TTB requirement related to how wineries are tracking those loads of sub Napa Valley AVA grapes. This topic is an issue I have seen often at wineries over the years, and is related to their weigh tags, or more formally known as weighmaster certificates.

Weighmaster certificates are a legally regulated document which track the purchase/sale of a load of wine grapes. (in this example) They are required to have a specific set of text & fields on them, however an appellation field is not one of them.  Here is where the TTB rub comes in.

The TTB sees a weigh tag documenting a load of grapes as a “source document” or in other words think of them as birth certificates for your wines. The details that you fill in on a weigh tag tie directly in with what you eventually will or will not qualify to list on the wine label for the wine those grapes become a part of.

Here is an example of what I’ve seen commonly happening on weigh tags. A load of grapes from a sub AVA of Napa Valley comes into a winery. The winery does have an appellation field on their weighmaster certificate template. (Score one point for their compliance!)  However when they write up the weigh tag for that load of grapes they fill in the appellation field with “Napa Valley” when they need to list the sub AVA instead. This will mean that come label design time for the wine those grapes are made into it would NOT qualify to list the sub AVA on its label – because it was not documented on the “source document” or weigh tag.

If wineries would first make sure to include an appellation field on their weighmaster certificate template and then next ALWAYS be as narrow as possible in the AVA they list on all their weigh tags this will provide them the widest options come label design time & cover them to any TTB scrutiny.





Winery Compliance Class in Napa: March 24th
Posted on 2015-03-04 by Ann Reynolds

 Just like there are seasons of growth and activity in the vineyards, the same applies for activity levels related to day to day winery compliance tasks. Right now, early Spring is generally a quieter time for wineries, which makes it a perfect opportunity to do some “spring cleaning” related to their compliance!

A first step to get you started with that “spring cleaning”? Sign up for a winery compliance class that could save your winery potentially thousands of dollars & lots of sleepless nights!!

The class is “How to keep your winery Audit safe” and is being offered on Tuesday, March 24th from 8:30 til 11:30 through the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Go HERE for full details. It will be offered at the SBDC office on the Napa Valley College campus.

The class will focus specifically on key issues related to TTB (Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) and Napa County Planning Audits. These are items that come up most frequently in the course of on site audits by both of these regulating agencies. Topics such as required records and reporting, excise tax payments, and how to determine production levels will be explained and reviewed so attendees can then determine whether their winery has any potential issues that need to be addressed.

Winery staff attending the class are highly encouraged to bring the following items:

  • Full previous years TTB 5120.17 (“702″) reports
  • Most recent TTB excise tax report
  • Examples of required records: bill of lading for cased wine
  • Current Napa county Use Permit 

This class will go a long way to help wineries fully connect the dots as to how the records and reports they are required to be maintaining and filing either have potential audit holes in them, leaving them vulnerable as well as specific steps they can take now to address them.

Here is a link to get signed up:    Winery Compliance Class

 





Things To Be Thankful For In Winemaking Compliance
Posted on 2014-11-25 by Ann Reynolds

Yes I know, “thankful” and “compliance” don’t usually show up in the same sentence together. But if you’re someone who has spent the past 15 plus years interacting with the TTB from a recordkeeping and reporting standpoint you can appreciate the improvements that have come along to simplify the process. Plus I’m a person who believes in a regular practice of gratitude. So in the spirit of marking this Thanksgiving week I’ve summarized a few of this years compliance “developments” that I’m grateful for.

Continue reading





How to KNOW your excise taxes (TTB) have REALLY been paid!
Posted on 2014-09-25 by Ann Reynolds

This headline in the wine industry last week caught my attention- Wine Cellar owner sentenced to prison . This was related to lack of payment of TTB excise taxes due for over a year’s period of time. The thing was, this business had been including on their customer’s invoices payments made for excise taxes but those taxes were never paid to the TTB, so the owner was just pocketing those amounts. 

The owner of this wine storage & shipment business was actually sentenced to 9 months of prison time in addition to restitution payment due to the TTB of closer to $900,000. That dollar figure would come from the past due tax payment amounts, late fees and penalties related to her knowing neglect in paying them.

But what about the wineries that stored their cased wines there? What about their responsibility? Are they in trouble with the TTB as well? No they are not, their responsibility would lie in the details of how they shipped their wines to the warehouse. The paperwork that goes along with a shipment of cased wine to a storage warehouse is called a bill of lading. (or what the TTB call a transfer in bond record) On their bill of lading a winery would have specifically indicated “transfer in bond” on it, meaning that the federal excise taxes had not been paid on those cased wines. This in turn generally means that when the winery receives an order for those wines it is forwarded to the warehouse for fulfillment and then they, the warehouse as the site that actually shipped the wines are required to file the federal excise tax report and submit payment to the TTB on the amount of wine shipped.

This is what all the winery customers of this warehouse in Salinas thought was happening, especially since they were seeing the tax payment amounts coming back to them on their invoices. Why would they have suspected otherwise?

The only way a winery can be 100% sure that all their TTB (And California BOE by the way too) excise tax payments have been made is if they are filing them themselves. 

What this scenario looks like is all of a winery’s cased wine shipments going to a wine warehouse for storage & fulfillment are all sent “Taxpaid”. This “taxpaid” statement is also indicated on the bill of lading sent with the wine to the warehouse, so the warehouse will know how to log in into their system and keep track. Plus it is also the start point indicator for the warehouse that they do NOT have to submit any of the tax filings/payments on shipments of those wines. The TTB excise tax reporting and tax payments are then fully the responsibility of the winery itself.

Another item of note related to this same issue I have heard several times in recent months is that some wine storage warehouses in Napa and Sonoma county are no longer willing to file TTB excise tax payments under the small producers tax credit. So for any of their winery clients that qualify for this hefty 0.90 cent a gallon tax credit they would essentially be telling them “if you want to take advantage of this huge tax savings on your wines, you’ll need to send them into us “Taxpaid””. Which would mean that the winery would document their bills of lading of cased wines being sent to their warehouse as “Taxpaid” and then follow up on those shipments for their next reporting period by submitting the TTB excise tax report along with payment.

For more info on the bill of lading document go here: BOL info

For more info on the TTB excise tax for the small producers credit go here: SPC tax info

To talk more about your winery records and reports please contact me here: ann@winecompliancealliance.com                  

OR     707-320-8575





Wineries: No cross outs on your weigh tags!
Posted on 2014-08-21 by Ann Reynolds

It’s game on for crush 2014! I now regularly see trucks carrying those familiar white plastic bins on the roads here in Napa. Once the grapes start rolling in things heat up pretty fast. (No fermentation-related pun intended) Things can also quickly become rather chaotic when it comes to harvest related recordkeeping. Specifically your weigh tags. If you are someone who fills out weigh tags- I’ve got a warning reminder for you: one thing the county and the state do NOT want to see on your weigh tags: numbers that are crossed out. Those numbers would of course be your weights, the gross, tare and net that are filled out on a weigh tag. Continue reading





What does wine production really mean?
Posted on 2013-09-09 by Ann Reynolds

napa-county-logo-150x150

I’ve recently read some articles about random audits here in Napa county conducted by the planning office. These random audits occur annually on 5% of Napa’s wineries which hold use permits with the county planning office. One of the key items they are looking at during these audits is a winery’s production gallons. The term production gets tossed around a lot in the wine business. It means different things to the different people and different agencies connceted to it, and in my world of compliance it has very specific definitions given to it by government agencies such as the county planning office in this case. It is also a specifically defined term used by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB). Do you know the difference in definition between those two agencies and how it can impact your winery?

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