by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
It wasn’t too many weeks ago that I thought we were pulling into the home stretch in getting our winery/tasting room going. Maybe we still are. I just don’t know.
We have been fighting (maybe a little bit too strong of a word but that’s how it feels) with Building and Safety which had rejected our latest set of plans for various reasons all of which would have been very expensive (probably prohibitively so) to do. After a few more skirmishes, Building and Safety saw the light, and all looked good.
And I can’t say anything looks all that bad at the moment either. But I can say we still do not have our permit in hand. Why? I’m not altogether sure.
I heard through the grapevine that the septic issue, which I thought was history, is still generating “discussions” between the county, state, and our septic engineer. What those discussions involve, I really couldn’t tell you. It’s certainly not for lack of trying to find out, but it seems that is just the way it is.
I have something I am going to say, but before I say it, I want to make a disclaimer. I am not a member of the tea party. To the contrary, I am probably as far to the left as one could be without being considered extreme. I have been a Democrat all my life, and if there were a party to the left of that that was it at all viable, I’d probably join it. I have voted for Obama twice and I’m quite certain I will vote for whoever is the next Democratic candidate for president.
As far as I can tell, the Republican Party has simply lost it.
I say all of this so that you, the reader, can appreciate that I’m not some right wing nut as you read what follows.
I have a dream. It’s certainly not a dream anything close to Martin Luther King’s dream, but it’s a dream nonetheless.
In this dream, I decide that I want to open a winery and tasting room. I figure out what I need to do that, I buy the materials, and lease the premises. From when I decide I want to go forward to when I actually open the doors is a month or two. Probably two months, but maybe closer to one if I really work at it to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.
Not much of a dream you might say. And I guess I would have to agree with you on that. It’s not so much that the dream is such a doozy but that the reality is such a nightmare.
And that’s the crux of it. It’s not so much that the dream is special, but at least it’s not a nightmare.
The problem isn’t what you need to physically do to get up and going. It’s instead getting the entitlements you need from a host of government agencies. Being in the alcohol business makes it that much worse, because on top of everything a normal business needs to do you need to get your entitlements from both the state and the feds.
But what should be something that otherwise would take some number of weeks instead is taking well over a year. Every step of the way, you’re dealing with some agency that is just doing its job.
If I contact someone about supplying a piece of equipment for the winery, I get what is pretty much an immediate response. Maybe immediate is a little bit of an exaggeration, but not a whole lot. After all his livelihood depends upon people like me buying his goods.
When you seek a government entitlement, it couldn’t be more different. The people you deal with do not depend upon you, and you’re getting your entitlement, for their bread and butter. Whether they process your application in a day a week a month or a year doesn’t really affect their paycheck. I do not mean to disparage them in any way. The people that I have come in contact have been hard-working, conscientious, and well-meaning. But there is just no getting around the fact that someone without a clear benefit to gain from doing whatever it is you want him to do is simply not going to do it with that same level of enthusiasm.
It doesn’t help either that pretty much every government agency is budget challenged, so they are all handling more work than their staffing levels can handle.
But I think the greater problem isn’t the lack of proper incentives for the bureaucrats, but the nature of the bureaucracy itself. What makes it particularly difficult is that there is such a plethora of rules and regulations that you need to comply with. Here’s just a short list for our winery:
Qualify to be a bonded winery with TTB.
Qualify to be a winery with the California ABC.
Meet the zoning requirements imposed by Solano County.
Meet the building requirements imposed by Solano County.
Meet the septic requirements imposed by Solano County, as well as the state of California.
Each one of these requirements involves passing muster. I have not talked to anyone anywhere who feels like what we are doing is going to end up requiring much in the way of any physical changes to our premises. It’s just all paper.
And each requirement, standing alone, doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. It’s just all these reasonable requirements in combination results in an almost insurmountable gamut. There is no one lethal stroke—it is just death by 1000 small cuts.
I don’t know where this all ends. I do know that if we, as a nation want small business to survive and thrive, this plethora of regulations are making this almost impossible.
I think this also has to have a huge effect on the corporatization of America. As burdensome as these regulations are, at least a large corporation has the means to surmount them. I am not saying it is easy for them either, but at least they have the resources and the staying power that most small businesses lack.
I am quite sure that most Republicans would agree with me on the above. Most Democrats should agree with me as well. No matter what your politics, a vibrant economy with lots of small businesses is in everybody’s interest. I am quite sure that once we are up and going with our winery, we will not make a huge impact on the economy of the nation, or even the state, or even Solano County. But we will generate a certain amount of income, probably need to hire a few people, contribute sales taxes, and so on and so forth. And while I won’t pretend that our a little enterprise is going to make that much difference, combined with other small businesses of similar size we could be making a huge difference to the economy. This is particularly true in an economy where the large businesses are becoming so automated that they are not generating much in the way of jobs.
So that’s my rant. Hopefully with another few weeks I will have my entitlements in hand, and I’ll have calmed down some.