Strike & Techel is hiring!

March 27, 2015 | Comment

Strike & Techel LLP, a law firm specializing in alcoholic beverage law, is seeking an associate attorney with 2-5 years of law firm experience and enthusiasm for the alcoholic beverage field. The firm represents a broad range of clients, including producers (wineries, breweries and distilleries), importers, retailers, advertising/promotional agencies, and other related beverage industry businesses. S&T provides comprehensive counsel on a variety of topics relevant to our clients. We handle alcohol-specific matters such as regulatory compliance, dealings with state and federal alcohol agencies, and alcohol licensing, as well as general legal matters such as trademark registrations, contract drafting and review, purchase and sale transactions, etc. For more information about the firm, visit www.strikeandtechel.com.

Alcohol beverage law experience is highly desirable but not mandatory. The selected attorney will be responsible primarily for corporate matters and alcohol licensing projects. Strong corporate/transactional skills are essential, and familiarity with entity structuring and operating agreements/bylaws, commercial leases, and conditional use permits is preferred. The ideal applicant will have strong analytical, writing and communication skills, an engaging personality and a sense of humor.

If you think that you’d be a great fit with us, please send us your resume, a short sample blog post (modeled on the ones on our website) about a current alcoholic beverage issue that has caught your attention, a cover letter, references and salary requirements. In the cover letter, please tell us why you chose the issue in your sample blog post and why you are interested in alcoholic beverage law. We
will be accepting resumes through the end of April at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Changes to Small Brewery, Winery and Distillery Bonding, Reporting and Filing Requirements

March 11, 2015 | Comment

The general rule for excise tax reporting for alcohol producers is that returns must be filed semi-monthly (i.e. twice a month). A special exception to that rule allows a small producer, who does not reasonably expect to be liable for more than $50,000 in excise tax in the year, to file quarterly returns. Each small producer is required to make a choice of whether to file quarterly or semi-monthly, with that choice impacting the bonding requirements for the production facility. The less frequent the excise tax payment, the higher the required bond amount. Very small wineries currently benefit from even longer reporting and tax deadlines. Wineries that expect to pay less than $1,000 in wine excise taxes in the coming year may file excise tax returns annually. Operations reports may also be filed annually if the winery doesn’t expect to produce more than 20,000 gallons of wine in any one month in the calendar year.

Now, under recent guidance from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”), small brewers will be forced to file returns quarterly rather than semi-monthly. This change will affect around 90% of licensed brewers. With the mandatory quarterly filing, the required bond is set at a flat $1,000 amount (previously, the bond for a brewer paying $50,000 in excise tax would have been $5,000 if filing semi-monthly, and close to $15,000 if filing quarterly). A brewery filing quarterly tax returns must also file a quarterly report of operations. To further lessen the burden of reporting for both brewers and TTB employees, the information required in the reports has been revised, with two sections removed. To see the full guidance, click here.

In addition to the TTB changes for small breweries, there is also a bill pending in the Senate that could reduce the compliance burden for all small producers. It would exempt small breweries, wineries and distilleries (i.e. not liable for more than $50,000 in excise tax in the year) from all current bonding requirements and would allow any small producer – not just small wineries—owing less than $1,000 a year to file annually. The proposal passed the Senate Finance Committee on February 11, 2015, and is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. It has not yet been introduced in the House.

If you have any questions about brewery, winery or distillery operations reporting or taxes, contact an attorney at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 • All Rights Reserved •


Compliance Check-In: 2014 TTB Beverage Sample Program Results

February 02, 2015 | Comment

Each year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), conducts a random sampling of alcoholic beverages, known as the Alcohol Beverage Sample Program. TTB agents purchase alcohol products from retail stores and take them back to the TTB lab for review. The survey identifies compliance issues with the tested beverages, including incorrect alcohol content levels, and Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) discrepancies. The TTB recently released the results of their 2014 review, finding 139 out of 450 total products sampled to be non-compliant.

The most commonly identified issue was mislabeled alcohol percent by volume (ABV), in which the ABV stated on the label was either above or below the actual tested alcohol content. In distilled spirits products, 42 of the 190 beverages sampled were found to contain an ABV over the advertised content, while 14 products contained a lower ABV than advertised. Aside from misleading the consumer, incorrect ABVs can lead to regulatory action from federal tax authorities if the actual alcohol content would place the product in a different tax class.

Another common compliance issue was a discrepancy between the product’s label information and the information listed on the product’s COLA. When a bottler or importer applies for label approval with the TTB, they are issued a COLA and their product’s label must match the information provided on their COLA application (with the exception of some limited information which can be changed without a new COLA). Of the 139 non-compliant products, 40 had labels with missing or added information that did not match their approved COLA.

Other prevalent compliance issues included no COLA for the product, errors in the mandatory government warning message, and incorrect statements of class or type of alcohol. Possible TTB actions in response to incorrectly labeled products could include monetary fines and other regulatory penalties, and at a minimum, would require that the non-compliant labels be corrected. To see the full results of the sample program, click here.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved ·


New California ABC Advisory on Merchandising Services by Suppliers

January 07, 2015 | Comment

In December 2014, the California ABC posted a new Industry Advisory about merchandising services. Free services provided by suppliers to retail licensees, such as stocking shelves, pricing inventory, rotating stock, etc., are prohibited things-of-value under California Business & Professions Code sections 25500 and 25502. However, a number of permitted exceptions are separately provided for in Section 25503.2. The Advisory was posted in response to inquiries and complaints about the scope of permissible activity. When ABC receives multiple complaints about impermissible conduct, investigations and license accusations may well follow, so it would be prudent for suppliers to review the scope of permissible merchandising activities.

Permitted activity varies depending on the type of retailer and the products involved so we created a simple chart below to help keep it straight.

Note that in all cases, any merchandising activities can only be done with the retailer’s permission. In no case can a supplier move the inventory of another supplier, except for “incidental touching” to access the space allocated to the licensee providing the merchandising service.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved ·


Prescriptions for Alcohol

December 04, 2014 | Comment

In honor of Repeal Day, partner Kate Hardy agreed to share these fun pieces from her collection of Prohibition-era alcohol prescriptions. One prescribes whisky for the treatment of anorexia, and the others prescribe wine and whisky for unknown ailments. The directions for usage seem reasonable enough: take a pint in a wine glass every four hours, or mix it in eggnog. One of the prescriptions is for “Vin Gallici,” a contemporary of the also often prescribed “Spiritus Frumenti.” These are liquids more commonly referred to as wine and whisky. They were used in many prescriptions during Prohibition, possibly in the hope that they would look more medicinal if they were in Latin.

Liquor Prescription Stub

Prescription form for medicinal liquor

Liquor Prescription Stub

Prescription form for medicinal liquor

Form with stub

Prescription

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


What is in the Bottle? Rules for California Appellations on Wine Labels

November 10, 2014 | Comment

Appellations of origin are the place names that describe where the grapes that make up a given wine were grown. There are rules controlling the statement of appellation on the label, all of which are aimed at making sure that the label of the product accurately reflects what is inside the bottle. Most of the appellation labeling rules are in the Code of Federal Regulations at 27 CFR Part 4, but state law must also be considered, and can sometimes be more limiting than the federal rules.

Appellations are required on wines if the label also includes a varietal designation or a vintage year (27 CFR 4.34(b)). The chart below lists some of the basics on appellations for wines made from California grapes.

Federal Rules

Appellation on Label What is in the Bottle?
California 75% of the fruit must be from California and the wine must be finished within California or an adjoining state. (27 CFR 4.25)
A County in California 75% of the fruit has to be from the county and the wine has to be finished in California. (27 CFR 4.25)
Two or Three Counties in California All of the fruit has to come from the listed counties, the percentage of fruit from each county has to be listed on the label, and the wine has to be finished in California. No more than three counties can be listed. (27 CFR 4.25)
An American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California AVAs are specific geographic areas approved by the TTB. A list of all of the AVAs in the country is available here. 85% of the fruit has to come from the AVA and the wine has to be finished in California. (27 CFR 4.25)


Special California Requirements

Appellation on Label Special California Rule
“California” or any geographical subdivision of California (including a county or two or three counties) 100% of fruit must come from California. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 17, § 17015). This rule is more specific than the federal rules, and means that any wine with a California appellation of any kind must be made from 100% California fruit.
“Sonoma County” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within Sonoma County. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25246)
“Napa Valley” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within Napa County. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25240)
“Lodi” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within the Lodi AVA (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25245)
“Paso Robles” Labels MUST say this if also labeled with an AVA entirely within the Paso Robles AVA (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25244)
“Napa”, “Sonoma” and any AVA in Napa County The rules for using “Napa,” “Sonoma,” and any AVAs in Napa are especially strict. Those terms cannot appear on the labels unless the wine in the bottle qualifies for use of the term under the federal labeling regulations.(Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25241, 25242 and 27 CFR 4.25)
Counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, San Benito, Solano, San Luis Obispo, Contra Costa, Monterey or Marin Any written representation (e.g., labels, advertising, company letterhead, etc.) that a wine is produced entirely from grapes grown in these counties must be true. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25237)
“California Central Coast Counties Dry Wine” This designation can only appear on a label if all of the grapes are from the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, San Benito, Solano San Luis Obispo, Contra Costa, Monterey or Marin. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 25236)

Related Labeling Considerations

The appellation rules noted above are intertwined with other federal labeling regulations, which may also come into play. For example, if a label includes a varietal and an appellation, 75% of the grapes used in the wine must be of the stated grape type and all of those grapes must come from the stated appellation. (27 CFR 4.23) If the label includes a vintage year and an appellation, 85% of the grapes in the wine must be from the stated vintage year – and if the appellation is an AVA, the percentage requirement rises to 95%. (27 CFR 4.27)

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


FDA Food Facility Registration Renewal: How to Renew and What to Watch out For

October 30, 2014 | Comment

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”), which was passed into law in 2011, all food facilities, including those where alcoholic beverages are produced or stored, are required to renew their FDA registrations by December 31, 2014. As we’ve previously blogged about here and here, the FSMA and related FDA laws include alcohol in the definition of “food,” and a “Food Facility” includes any “factory, warehouse, or establishment (including a factory, warehouse, or establishment of an importer) that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food,” not including restaurants and other retail food establishments. Accordingly, many in the alcohol industry must register with the FDA, including wineries, breweries, distilled spirits plants, alcohol beverage distributors, importers, warehouses, and wholesalers. Note that foreign facilities that produce food or alcoholic beverages sent to the U.S. are among those required to register.

The FSMA requires that all registered food facilities renew their registrations every two years between October 1 and December 31 of every even-numbered year. That means that even if your facility was first registered with the FDA in 2013, or even in early 2014, renewal is required before December 31, 2014. Renewal won’t be required again until October 1 through December 31, 2016.

FDA registration and renewal is a simple process that can be completed online and there is no fee for either the initial registration process or renewal. The FDA does not issue a formal certificate once the process is completed, and instead simply issues a registration number to registered facilities, along with a PIN that all registrants should keep available for the renewal process. Many registrants may have received emails or other correspondence from third parties that may claim to be affiliated with the FDA and that attempt to collect fees for FDA registrations. The FDA has recently warned registrants that it is not affiliated with any third parties, and that registration is always free, so be on the lookout for emails requesting a fee or other information related to FDA registration. More information on FDA registration and renewal can be found here.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel if you have any questions about FDA registration or related issues.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


Custom Crush vs. Alternating Proprietorship: Starting a Cheaper Wine Business

October 13, 2014 | Comment

There is a long running joke that it is easy to make a million dollars in the wine industry, you just start with two million dollars. Joking aside, there are relatively low cost ways that you can get started in the wine business, without having to invest in planting your own vines and building your own winery. These options allow you to get started making and building your brand without having the considerable overhead of vineyards and winery buildings. Two ways exist of doing this: you can enter into a custom crush relationship with an existing winery to make wine for you, or you can get your own winery license, based at an existing licensed winery, in what is referred to as an alternating proprietorship or AP arrangement. In both cases, you own and develop your own wine brand or brands. We have put together some information on both systems here, and also recommend that you read the full Industry Circular from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) on the differences between them.

Custom Crush

In a custom crush situation, you contract with a winery to make wine for you. Even if the grapes that are used for the wine are grown or purchased by you, the produced wine belongs to the winery until state and federal excise taxes are paid and it is sold to another properly licensed entity. The winery gets the label approval and maintains all records and reports. You, as the brand owner, generally obtain a wholesale license so that you can buy the tax-paid wine from the winery and then resell it to wholesalers and retailers, depending on your state licensing. Each state has a different way of managing this. In Oregon, for example, custom crush customers often get a state winery license alongside a federal wholesale license. In California, it is possible for a wholesaler to also obtain a retail license and market wine direct to consumers, although shipping to other states with such a license is limited to the small number of states which allow an out-of-state retailer to ship to their residents.

Alternating Proprietorship (AP)

The TTB will allow licensed premises to alternate between owners, such as in an AP agreement where more than one winery is licensed in the same location. Premises can also alternate between types of licenses, so that a facility can alternate between a winery and a brewery or distillery, for example. In an AP situation, the TTB will allow more than one licensee to operate a winery in the same location, and even for some of the same staff to be used, provided that each owner makes independent decisions evidencing authority and control over the winemaking process. The TTB requires and will review the written AP agreement between the parties, often referred to as “host” and “tenant,” to make sure that each licensee has a bona fide plan to conduct its own winery operations. Although an AP arrangement involves more permitting and recordkeeping than the custom crush approach, it carries some significant benefits. First, the AP tenant is licensed as a winery and will be able to benefit from the rights of a winery licensee in that state. These can include being able to sell direct to consumer in almost all states, operate one or more tasting rooms, and produce or blend other types of alcohol. Second, an AP tenant is likely to be eligible for the small domestic producer tax credit, as production is based only on the AP tenant’s production, which is not likely to exceed 250,000 gallons in the start-up phase (note that there are no minimum federal production requirements for a winery but California, for example, requires at least 201 gallons of wine a year to be made by a licensed winery). It should be noted that winery licensing under an AP agreement may trigger some grape sourcing requirements that you should be aware of, and you will need to research local planning issues more closely in an AP structure than a custom crush relationship.

If you are interested in learning more about custom crush and alternating proprietorships in California or elsewhere, contact one of the attorneys at Strike & Techel.

Imbiblog is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2014 · All Rights Reserved ·


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