Ask Clay: Advice from a Winegrower


We received a question from a reader this week, and it has inspired us to create a new feature. “Ask Clay” is a great opportunity to find out anything you ever wanted to know about winegrowing or small-batch winemaking. Clay has been making wine for years, cultivating a vineyard for four years, and he completed the certificate program in winemaking offered by the world-renowned Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis and the University of California, Davis Extension. Clay is also just a pretty nice guy excited to share his knowledge about a subject he loves. Here’s our first question: I've been making wine out of my garage for 7-plus years now. I'm wondering, before you got into the actual winery/ranch, what did you do about licensing for making and selling your wine? I wanted to go to the next stage in this endeavor, but I have no idea where to start and was hoping you had some insight!

Thank you for checking out our website and thanks also for reaching out.

To date, I have never sold any of my wine. Instead, I rely on the personal use exemption and make up to 200 gallons of wine for friends and family only.

At Gantz Family Vineyards, we focus on growing and selling grapes, not finished wine. I expect to be in a position to announce shortly that we have sold our entire 2013 crop to a local winery. Very exciting! Of course, I plan to keep a half ton or so of grapes for myself.

As far as your question is concerned, while I have never been through the licensing process for myself, I know something about it. It sounds to me that you would want to license yourself with the treasury department as either a bonded winery or alternating proprietor . Alternatively, you could look into a custom crush arrangement. In my experience custom crush facilities offer varying degrees of winemaker involvement. Some make the wine for you and others let you participate. Unfortunately, one of the best small lot custom crush facilities, Crushpad, ran into financial difficulties and I'm not sure at this point how reliable they are or whether they are even open for business.  In our area, even the smallest custom crush facility is oriented to producing lots of 4 to 5 tons and up.

Anyway, you can learn a lot about licensing on the U.S. Department of Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website. It is tedious, but so is the process.

Good luck! Clay Gantz

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