Category Archives: Wine Compliance

Things To Be Thankful For In Winemaking Compliance
Posted on 2015-11-23 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.

Some of these items on the list are developments from the TTB over this past year while others are about new developments in my business.

1.  Label approval times are still relatively “quick”. Average processing time is now 20 days.

2. Another TTB update related to label approvals. The “You can get it wrong but still get it right!” update they posted in September. See my blog post which summarizes this: 9-29-2015 Blog post 

 3.  I’m now teaching a winery compliance course through the Napa SBDC offices. The class is offered twice a year. Sign up for my newsletter to find out about upcoming 2016 dates.

4.  Wine Compliance Alliance has had a Youtube channel for a year now. 2015 was quiet as far as posting new videos but starting January 2016 you can expect to see regular weekly uploads on topics related to TTB winery compliance, from permitting through record keeping, reporting, paying excise taxes and label design/label approval. Here’s the channel to subscribe: Wine Compliance Alliance Youtube channel

5.  Last but not least I’m continually thankful to all of you who have found my blog and made contact with me to let me know that it made you smile, helped you out or you became another awesome client. Thanks! I’m very grateful to hear your appreciative feedback! It is you that I am writing for! Make sure you stay in my loop of the wonderful world of winemaking compliance by signing up for my newsletter by accessing my “5 Simple Steps” download here on my site.

And for those of you who have any items to add to this list from your own experiences I’d love to hear about them! Please share them in the comments section below.

Here’s to more updates and improvements to be thankful for in your winemaking compliance as we approach 2016!          Stay tuned!

Winery Compliance Class in Napa: November 3rd
Posted on 2015-10-06 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. The 2015 grape harvest is wrapping up on the early side this year which means that things are beginning to slow back down to “normal” in the cellar.

This is another perfect time to take a look at your winery’s compliance “health”. Is it in good standing? Are you keeping your wine making records correctly to pass either a TTB or a Napa County planning audit?

If you have ever lost sleep over the above topics- I’m teaching a class next month which is designed to help you find out.

The class is “How to keep your winery Audit safe” and is being offered on Tuesday, November 3rd from 9 til noon through the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Go HERE for full details & to sign up. 

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 use permit 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: a completed bill of lading for cased wine & one for bulk 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


TTB label approvals: now allowing your application to not match your label!
Posted on 2015-09-29 by Ann Reynolds

TTB label approvals, or COLAs as the lingo goes for industry insiders are a topic that generally causes those of us who deal with their submission and approval to roll our eyes and have no shortage of “war stories” to share of our experiences with them over the years.

Despite our often frustrated view of the label approval process, the TTB has made great strides in streamlining the whole submission/approval process over the last few years. In September 2014 they again updated their list of allowable label revisions. This updated list has meant that wineries and wine cellars get to save themselves some time and potential lost sleep by NOT having to submit for a new label approval (COLA). This updated list of allowable label revisions applies to any wines that your site (which means your TTB permit) has previously obtained a COLA. It is well worth the time of winery staff to be familiar with this list, so they then know whether or not they need to bother with submitting a new COLA for wines that they bottle every year.

This latest update from the TTB related to label approvals now means that winery or wine cellar staff can incorrectly complete their label approval applications & still have them approved! The TTB just announced that they will now allow 3 fields on the application to NOT match the actual data on the wine label(s).

Those 3 application fields are: net contents, alcohol content & vintage. 

So what does this mean? If you submit a label approval for a wine and the information you put in any of the above fields of the COLAs online application (net contents, alcohol content & vintage) does NOT match what appears on the label files that you upload, then the TTB specialist viewing the application will still go ahead and view your label files since those 3 fields are all part of the list of allowable changes. As long as all other fields on the application match the label files, and the balance of items on the actual label(s) are all compliant they will approve it.

A more specific example of this would be if I submitted a label approval application with the following: the net contents field listed 375ml, the alcohol content field listed 14.5%, and the vintage field listed 2013.  However, the label files that I uploaded were printed with: 750ml, 13.8%, and 2014. These 3 non matching fields are all examples of allowable label changes, so the TTB specialist would still be able to approval this application, provided the rest of the fields and items printed on the labels were correct and in compliance.

To view the TTB announcement summary follow this link and you’ll see it in their Announcements section on the lower right side:

TTB label approval qualification announcement


Napa County Use Permit holders: Understanding the 75% rule VS production.
Posted on 2015-09-22 by Ann Reynolds

The topic of winery use permits has been a hot one here in Napa County since early this year. From my viewpoint of growing  in Napa and working in the wine industry since 1993, we’re reaching a “critical mass” sort of point in the industry’s evolution. Napa County is essentially writing the textbook on how to successfully manage winery development and growth related to local regulation, tourism, and community support.

The local regulator for wineries in the unincorporated area of Napa county is the Napa County Planning office. They issue winery use permits and also do random annual audits of those permit holders. This post is written to further explain the details behind two Napa county use permit conditions which wineries are tasked with staying in compliance: the 75% grape source rule and permitted production gallons.

The first topic, the 75% grape source rule is defined as follows in the original WDO (Winery Definition Ordinance) text: “All wineries first established subsequent to January 23, 1990: at least 75% of the grapes used to make the winery’s still wine, or the still wine used by the winery to make sparkling wine, shall be grown within the county of Napa.”

What does this mean to a winery as far as assessing their use permit compliance? The Napa County Planning office will determine whether a winery is in compliance with meeting the 75% rule by viewing their grape weigh tags. (weighmaster certificates) This means the weigh tags for all grapes received into their physical site, since that is what the use permit is assigned to. In other words if your winery sends grapes to another winery site for processing (crushing, fermentation) those grapes don’t count towards your site’s use permit totals.

The next use permit condition related to wine making activities is the production gallons. The Napa county planning office uses two separate sets of wine making numbers to determine compliance for this. Both sets of these numbers come directly from the TTB 5120.17 (“702”) reports filed by the winery site. For a full description of these two sets of calculations used by the county please see my post from July: Calculations for Napa county use permit production gallons

Here again compliance is determined only from wine making activities that occur on your physical site, so both the resulting gallons from those grapes that are sent to another winery site to be processed into wine as well as any of your finished wines that are sent to another site to be bottled do not count towards your site’s county use permit production gallons.

If your winery holds a use permit issued by the Napa County Planning office, take a closer look at your list of conditions, then run the numbers from your site’s weigh tags and TTB “702” reports. I recommend doing so on an annual basis. 

Questions on exactly how to do this for your site?

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Connecting your grape weigh tags to your wine labels
Posted on 2015-08-18 by Ann Reynolds

Yet another grape harvest is underway across California & the western states. The grape harvest is where the compliance “story” of a wine and all it’s relevant details begin. From a winery compliance perspective this means all the hard copy records that any winery is required to be maintaining in their files. At harvest those would be the weigh tags, or formally called weighmaster certificates. Did you know that there is a direct connection to the details on your grape weigh tags and the details listed on your wine labels?

This direct connection backs into requirements by the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), as well as the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (CA ABC) offices and their regulating authority. Both of these agencies have regulating authority related to wine labels.

For the TTB the connection between your wine labels and your grape weigh tags is any items such as a varietal, AVA, or vineyard name that appear on your wine labels must also appear on the weigh tags that documented the grapes that became those finished wines. The TTB considers a grape weigh tag a “source document” and will use them for verification purposes in the event of an audit of a finished wine which tracks the wine’s details back from the wine label to the weigh tags.

For the CA ABC they are looking for a specific listing, or actually two on your wine labels both of which have to do with the appellation information listed there. In California we currently have four conjunctive labeling laws on the books, specific to four grape growing areas of the state. What each of these laws state is that if a “sub” AVA of one of these grape growing regions is listed on a wine label then the larger “parent” AVA must also be listed on the the label, either next to it, or on another part of the label(s).  Those four areas by the way are: Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lodi and Paso Robles.

Grape weigh tags are the “birth certificates” of the wine world. My suggestions are always to make them as specific and narrow as possible. 

Concerned that your weigh tags are incomplete, inaccurate or wouldn’t pass TTB or CA ABC requirements?

Let’s discuss further:

Wineries: No cross outs on your weigh tags!
Posted on 2015-08-13 by Ann Reynolds

It’s game on for crush 2014 2015! 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

Napa County winery annual reporting may be coming soon
Posted on 2015-07-28 by Ann Reynolds

There are currently several hundred wineries in the unincorporated area of Napa county which hold a use permit issued by the Napa County Planning office. Currently these wineries are not required to file reports to the planning office related to their wine making activities. That may change though as a result of recent proposals from the county planning office and discussions with the county’s Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee. (APAC)  The County is now proposing an annual self certification that wineries would be required to complete and submit to their office which would be used to verify if wineries are meeting use permit conditions.

Would you know right now whether your winery was in compliance with the conditions on your county use permit?

Based on my interactions with many local Napa wineries most would not. They would also not know what their specific use permit conditions are related to their wine making and which of their on site records are used by the county to determine their compliance.

There are two areas tied to wine making activities that the county looks at to determine a winery’s use permit compliance; wine production gallons and grape appellation sources. The first, wine production gallons is the approved amount listed on a winery’s most current use permit. The second, grape source data is specific to the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) which went info effect in 1990 and in part set the requirement for grape deliveries received into wineries with use permits approved after that date at 75% coming from Napa county grapes.

What records does the county use to determine compliance in these two areas? The first, wine production compliance is determined by calculating two sets of numbers which come from the winery’s Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) report of wine premise operations report. (Still commonly referred to in the industry as the 702) Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote in 2013 which explains and provides an example of these calculations:

“Calculating the first set involves some math. The county first takes a look at your gallons “produced by fermentation”, which is line #2 on the TTB report. They total all of these numbers from 3 year’s worth of reports. Next they add to that the difference in your gallons of bulk wine received onto your site minus the gallons of bulk wine shipped out from your site. These received and shipped sets of numbers appear on lines 7 & 15 of the TTB report form.  After reaching the final number of this first calculation they then take a look at one other number from the TTB report, line 13, gallons bottled. They compare the first calculation number to the total gallons bottled number and whichever is higher is what the county will use to base whether or not your winery is in compliance with the number of gallons listed on your use permit.”

Example of calculation:

“Let’s use fictional winery ABC Cellars. Here is their fictional summary for 3 year’s worth of TTB  reports.They produced by fermentation (line 2’s totals) 8,540 gallons. They received in bond (line 7) 3,400 gallons and transferred in bond (line 15) 1,890 gallons for a net of 1,510. Adding this to their produced by fermentation number we get 10,050 gallons. (8,540 + 1,510) This is the first calculation number. Lastly their Bottled (line 13) number for the 3 years was 9,640.   The number the county would have compared to the number on their use permit is 10,050, since it is the higher of the two. So as long as ABC Cellars has a use permit gallons above 10,050 they would be in compliance”

The second area, the 75% grape source requirement for post 1990 use permit holders is verified by data that comes from all of a winery’s weighmaster certificates, or weigh tags for grapes received onto their site. Here again a sum of 3 years worth of data compiled from their weigh tags (or other record info) is used to determine that at least 75% of the grapes received and processed at a winery site are documented with “Napa county”, “Napa Valley”, or any of the 16 sub Napa Valley AVAs as their origin.

If you are concerned that your winery is at risk of being out of compliance on the above county requirements you can reach me to discuss further. or 707-266-1946

Wineries – Do you know if your records paper trail is complete?
Posted on 2015-07-22 by Ann Reynolds

Wine making compliance has a lot of moving parts. Those moving parts primarily consist of the records that detail the activities that happen to a wine throughout it’s “life”, generally from grape to bottle though it could also be a much shorter story.

These (required) records consist of 3 main items; weigh tags, work orders and bills of lading. Any winery will need to have at the least 2 of these in their files, and would be required to produce them in hard copy form in the event of a TTB audit.

In my experiences most wineries are not aware of the specifics that the TTB requires to be tracked on each of these required records. Unfortunately, winery staff are often not given any or enough training related to TTB compliance in order to do that part of their jobs effectively.

Taking a look at each item separately here are some quick run-down questions for winery staff to ask when assessing each of these records in their files.

Item 1. Weigh Tags. This record as an official state of California (CDFA) document is called a weighmaster certificate. A weighmaster certificate is required for any sales transaction of grapes, juice or bulk wine.  A weighmaster certificate has a specific set of items that it must contain. (see sample here under weighmaster certificate requirements)

From the TTB’s perspective however a weigh tag is essentially a birth certificate for a wine.

Assessment Questions:

1. Do your weigh tags document the AVA for the grapes used to make your wines?

2. Do your weigh tags document the specific vineyard names for all your grapes?

These are two items that are NOT required to be documented on a weighmaster certificate, but wineries want to include them to make the connection between their weigh tags and their wine labels. Both AVAs and vineyard names are commonly listed on wine labels, and the easiest way to satisfy the TTB during an audit is to have them included on all the weigh tags for your grapes.

Item 2. Work orders.  Work orders are the records that track each activity that happened to a wine throughout its life at a winery site. They track the crushing, pressing, movements, addition materials added, blendings, filtrations, bottlings, etc that happen from start to finish in the wine making process. Gains and losses are documented on these. 

Assessment Questions:

1. Do you have hard copy work orders that include the date, tank/barrel info, blend/lot numbers, and start/ending gallons for your wines that document all wine making activity for each of your wines from “start to finish”? 

2. Can your work orders be connected one to the next for your wines, so that blend #’s match, starting/ending gallons match and any excessive losses are documented?

3. Are you tracking your finished wines by their accurate tax class? (Either below 14% or over 14 to 21% alcohol) 

Item 3. Bills of Lading.  A bill of lading, or BOL as they’re referred to by industry is what the TTB refers to as a “Transfer in Bond” record. When a winery receives in or ships out bulk wine a bill of lading is required for that wine shipment. There is a specific set of items that the TTB requires to appear on any Transfer in Bond record. (See list here) 

Assessment Questions:

1. Do your winery’s BOLs contain: Your TTB BWN number AND the receiving winery’s BWN (or BWC) number? And full physical address for both?

2. Do both your BOLs and the BOLs you receive from other wineries contain the FULL breakdown on the wine: Vintage, Varietal, & Appellation- all adding up to 100%?

3. Do both your BOLs and the BOLs you receive from other wineries list either the actual alcohol content OR at a minimum list the tax class? (below or over 14%)

The three wine making records described above are what tell the real stories of a wine’s life. The details that they track become the numbers that wineries report on the TTB Report of Wine Operations report, the details that (in part) document whether a winery qualifies for the Small Producers Tax credit, and what a wine will or won’t qualify to list on its label. These are all topics that come up most commonly during on site TTB winery audits.


Correction for use of sub AVAs on a wine back label
Posted on 2015-06-09 by Ann Reynolds

In a recent blog post from April 28th I shared about a wine label compliance discussion I had with Rob Mondavi. In that blog I posted (incorrectly!) that listing two sub AVAs of Napa Valley on a wine’s back label would not be considered in compliance per TTB regulations.  My statement was based solely on the guiding TTB regulation for use of an AVA on a wine label. 27 CFR 4.25 e 3 (iii)

Many of you who have interacted with the TTB over the years specific to wine labels are aware that they are at times not black and white with the interpretation of their regulations. (A common source of frustration for our industry!)

So I did a little bit more digging directly with Marsha Heath from the TTB’s Industry Relations office in Washington DC. I explained my wine label AVA scenario to her, that Napa Valley would be listed on the wine’s front label and Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain would be listed in the descriptive text on the back label. Would this be acceptable to them?

Ms. Heath’s response was yes it would as long as those two sub AVAs of Napa Valley were:

1. Shown on the true back label for the wine

2. Listed in the “romance” language on the back label & not prominently otherwise

I asked for some sort of TTB regulation I could refer clients and students to as to why this AVA use would be acceptable to them. Her source: 27 CFR 4.38 (f)

This wine label regulation has the broad name of “additional information”. Sort of a catch all for the range of other statements or items that can show up on labels that are not specifically addressed in existing TTB label regulations. 

As my AVA use on a wine back label scenario is very similar I had been hoping for something at least along the lines of the industry ruling from 1985 related to listing multiple varietals on a wine back label. It is “black and white” regulation references like this that I like to be able to direct clients and students to to help them understand what they can & can’t do on their wine labels.

Marsha Heath was very thorough and helpful during our call though, which I’ve come to appreciate & commonly expect with my frequent interactions with TTB staff.

Still have questions about your wine label design?  

Sign up for one of my Compliance Check In calls 

Decoding a wine label decoding infographic
Posted on 2015-05-28 by Ann Reynolds

This interesting infographic posted by Vinepair titled “How to decode an American wine label” came across my radar recently.

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs you know wine labels are a “near and dear” topic for me.  (So much that I even wrote a book about them.)

First of all let me give appreciative credit to Vinepair for putting this together. Wine labels have a lot going on behind them so I give kudos to Vinepair for the creation of this helpful graphic. Their infographic does explain the basic details about wine label items. There are deeper levels going on here that I’d like to further clarify. Those levels are specific to TTB requirements and so in turn to the winery that made and or bottled the wine So to further decode the decoding on this infographic here they are item by item:

Brand/Producer: What appears on a wine label as the “brand” is a required TTB item on any wine label. It may be the name of the winery, though as Vinepair points out it is also often another brand that the winery has created to sell a separate line of their wines through. A brand is something that consumers also become familiar with- as in developing a brand loyalty sort of following.

State/County/AVA/Variety: They get the basics of this correct here as far as the TTB percentage requirements for listing a state or county name (75%) or AVA name (85%) on your wine label. These percentage requirements are specific to the grape sources though, whereas use of a variety name on a wine label is always a 75% minimum. So for example a wine blend that contains 77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot and 100% of it comes from grapes grown within the Napa Valley AVA qualifies to list Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley on its labels. 

Vintage:  The statement here that this is the year the grapes were grown and harvested is accurate, but digging deeper the use of it on a wine label backs into TTB minimum percentage requirements & into what “geographic area” is listed on the label. The TTB requires an appellation of origin (state/county/AVA name) to be listed on any wine label that lists a vintage. If the appellation that is listed is either a county name or a state name then the minimum percentage requirements to qualify for listing a vintage is 85%. If the appellation listed on the label is an AVA name, then the minimum percentage requirement to list a vintage narrows to 95%. 

Name & address:  Here Vinepair accurately states, “depending on the level of involvement in all stages of the wine making process the text preceding the producers address will vary.” Yes- but what exactly does all that mean? Their label here lists “Grown, produced and bottled” in the name and address statement. What does that tell you about the wine? Grown and produced have two separate definitions and percentage requirements. To use the term “grown” the winery must either own all the land that 100% of the grapes for this wine came from or have a long term lease on that land. (at least 3 years) To use the term “produced” in this statement means that the winery where this wine was bottled must have either fully fermented or at least completed fermentation on a minimum of 75% of the blend in that bottle. I emphasize bottled here because it is fairly common for wines to be bottled at a different site than where they were fermented. (The term “produced” translates to “fermented” in the TTB’s eyes)

Alcohol content: An alcohol content is a required item on any wine label. The TTB has allowable tolerance ranges for what is listed on a label, to what the actual alcohol content of the wine is. On the label here with a 15.1% alcohol listed the actual content of this wine could be as low as 14.1% up to as high at 16.1% and would still be within TTB compliance. 

To sum up here is what a consumer looking at the wine label in this infographic would know about the wine in the bottle:

  • At least 85% of the grapes used to make this wine came from within the Napa Valley AVA
  • At least 75% of the grapes in the blend are Cabernet Sauvignon 
  • At least 95% of the grapes were harvested in the 2010 vintage
  • 100% of the grapes were grown on land owned or long term leased by the winery
  • At least 75% of this wine blend was fully fermented or finished fermentation at the winery site in Yountville, CA

Questions on any of this related to the design of your wine labels?  

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