by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
As you are probably aware if you’ve been reading this blog, we’ve been trying to get a winery and tasting room opened in Suisun Valley for well, forever. I just checked for when we applied for TTB winery bond, and it was in July 2012. So we have been at this for almost 2 years.
At the time, I thought dealing with the TTB and the California Alcohol Beverage Control Board was a total pain. Now, I look back on those as the good old days. Getting the local permits in order to open has been 1000 times more difficult.
The latest manifestation of this has been dealing with the State Water Quality Control Board. I’m not an expert in this field, so I’m not even sure I understand exactly what has gone on. It sounds to me as though dealing with our septic system used to be something that the county handled, but due to some recent legislation, is now handled by the state. Only, due to limited manpower, the state really can’t deal with it. Or something like that. At any rate, as far as I can tell our future has been sitting on a desk someplace in Oakland waiting for somebody to get to us. Except that’s not totally true, either, because I talked to the person who deals with this six months ago, who indicated this should be no big deal. I suspect that is how he felt, but when he went to higher-ups to get it approved, that isn’t what happened. That’s really speculation, though, because nobody really talks to you, so you really don’t know what’s going on.
About six weeks ago we made our latest submittal, and waited for the 30 days that it’s supposed to take to get a response. 30 days came. 30 days when. No response.
So after trying to figure out how to deal with the fact that we seemed to be getting nowhere, my partner, Richard, finally got ahold of the guy at State Water Quality Resources, who indicated that our application would be approved, and he would give the okay to Solano County to issue the permit. It’s too good to be true. And, like they say, if it sounds too good to be true, maybe it is too good to be true.
Of course, I do not actually have the permit in hand, and I don’t really know how long it takes to get from the “your permit is being approved” to its actual issuance.
I do know that when it comes to a winery and tasting room, we could hardly be smaller or more inconsequential. Why it should have taken close to two years to get through this process I cannot begin to understand. Everybody says we want wineries, we want agri-tourism, we want small businesses, we want employment. But I would be a whole lot happier if instead of talking the talk, they walked the walk. Because the process has been mind numbingly difficult.
I can’t say that any of the regulations that we have needed to comply with are on their face unreasonable. But when you pass a reasonable regulation, only to delegate its enforcement to an overworked and underfunded agency, what started out as a reasonable regulation just ends up as red tape. And when you need to deal with the federal tax and trade Bureau, the state Department of alcohol beverage control, the County of Solano planning department, the County of Solano building department, and state water quality resources, the regulatory maze is simply multiplied by five.
I hope in a few months time this will all be forgotten like a bad dream, but if I had known then what I know now about what would be required, I doubt I would even started the process two years ago.
And even though we have the verbal okay, I still don’t know when we will actually get the paper that we need to open. So I am excited, but still feeling the trepidation that results from knowing I have felt this way before, only to find out that it just wasn’t happening.
So, hopefully, in a matter of some weeks, I can actually start moving in wine and pouring tastes. Only time can tell if that will really be the case. Stay tuned.