To be labeled as “estate bottled,” a wine must be, among other things, made from grapes grown in an American Viticultural Area, on land that is owned or “controlled by” the winery, and the winery must crush, finish, age and bottle the wine in a continuous process.
Previous guidance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) suggested that a wine would not be entitled to use the “estate bottled” designation if a change of ownership of the winery occurred at any point during the winemaking process, because the new owner technically would not have “controlled” all phases of the process. To address this issue, sellers and buyers of wineries that produce “estate bottled” wines would sometimes enter into an Alternating Proprietorship Agreement (“AP”) whereby the seller would maintain its bonded winery operations until all wine in process at the winery as of the closing date had been bottled and labeled. This approach was difficult for both sellers and buyers, given that the AP could be in effect for a lengthy period of time depending on which stage of production the “estate bottled” wine was in.
In a recent private letter ruling, the TTB advised that it has reconsidered its position and that the proprietor of a winery can use an “estate bottled” designation for wine that was grown and fermented by a predecessor proprietor and bottled by a new proprietor (provided the wine also met the other requirements under 27 C.F.R. § 4.26). The ruling provides that the ownership of a winery may change while the wine is in process as long as the bottling winery does not change. The TTB further explains that the definition of “controlled by” refers to the land on which the grapes are grown and the winery operates, as opposed to the owner of such land. With a change in winery ownership, the “estate” land is not altered, and thus the new owner can maintain the “estate bottled” designation.
This guidance from the TTB should come as a welcome relief to potential purchasers and sellers of wineries that produce “estate bottled” wines.
For questions about the acquisition or sale of a winery, please contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.
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