Sunday, 26 May 2024

Bill legalizes home winemakers festivals

LAKE COUNTY – A bill signed Friday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger officially makes home winemaking competitions legal.


With the governor's signature, SB 607, an urgency measure introduced in May by North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins, goes into immediate effect.


Thanks to SB 607, individuals may now manufacture up to 200 gallons per household per calendar year for personal or family use without the need for a license or permit.


Wiggins introduced the bill after a state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control official said a provision in the state's business and professions code made it illegal for home winemakers to share their products with others – even at county fairs or at similar events that been held for decades, according to a statement from her office.


“Even though the provision banning home winemaker competitions had not been widely enforced in practice, the growing legions of home winemakers did not deserve to have an arcane section of state law hanging over them,” Wiggins, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on California’s Wine Industry, said in a written statement.


The bill's signing resolves the issue in time for the peak season of county fairs, Wiggins said, and in advance of what she called the “big daddy of home winemaker competitions,” the California State Fair.


Lake County is home to its own home winemakers festival, which will return for his sixth year this June 28 in downtown Kelseyville. The annual event is a benefit for Clear Lake Performing Arts.


Organizers had indicated they were continuing forward with plans for this year's festival, hoping Wiggins' bill would be in force before the event, which in fact came true.


Connel Murray of CLPA said the home winemakers festival is his group's largest annual fundraiser, attracting participants and visitors from all over Northern California.


The Lake County Fair, he said, also has a home winemaking competition, with no public tasting component, as the CLPA event does.


The event has grown each year, he said. Last year's event netted about $7,000, and they're hoping that this year's will break the $10,000 mark.


Proceeds go to such CLPA efforts as supporting its symphony orchestra.


Before Wiggins' bill adjusted the law to make the festivals legal, state law had defined a “winegrower” as “any person who has the facilities and equipment for the conversion of fruit into wine and is engaged in the production of wine, except for those persons who produce less than 200 gallons of wine per year for their personal consumption.” SB 607 expands the definition of a winegrower by removing that exception, her office reported.


The law also had allowed homemade beer to be entered into competitions without the need for a licesen or permit, according to Wiggins' office.


Stephen Chambers, executive director of the Western Fairs Association, said in a written statement that more than 50 fairs host home winemaker competitions.


“We realize that amateur wine competitions are a small piece of the puzzle, but they are, nonetheless, a piece that completes the picture for many fairs throughout the state,” Chambers said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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