TTB Will Consider Penalty Waivers for Late Payment of Excise Taxes By Businesses Impacted by Northern California Earthquake

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a notice yesterday stating that it will consider waiving - on a case-by-case basis - late filing, payment or deposit penalties for taxpayers unable to file payment of Federal excise taxes due to the August 24, 2014, Northern California earthquake. Text of the statement follows below.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recognizes that the devastation caused by the August 24, 2014, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE may have affected the operations of certain taxpayers. As a result, those taxpayers may not be able to timely file or timely make payment or deposit of Federal excise taxes administered and enforced by TTB as required under the Internal Revenue Code.

In light of this, TTB will consider waiving late filing, payment, or deposit penalties on a case-by-case basis. Wherever warranted, waivers will be approved based on the statutory standard of reasonable cause and a lack of willful neglect demonstrated by the taxpayer.

The waiver of penalties may also apply to taxpayers such as relief workers, taxpayers whose place of employment is located in the affected area, and taxpayers whose records are maintained in the above areas.

To qualify for such a waiver, a taxpayer must:

Demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the appropriate TTB officer, that the earthquake directly affected your ability to timely file, pay, or deposit; and

Contact the TTB National Revenue Center (NRC) at:

550 Main Street, Suite 8002
Cincinnati, OH 45202-5215
Toll-free: 877-882-3277
E-mail: TTBInternetQuestions@ttb.gov

 

 

 

Attending the Craft Beverage Expo: A Few Reasons Why You Should!

The Craft Beverage Expo is right around the corner, and there is still time to register! This inaugural event takes place in San Jose, CA on May 6 - 8, 2014, and the Stoel Rives Beverage & Hospitality Group has you covered! We are pleased to offer our blog subscribers a $100 discount off of the full registration. Please click here to register by using registration code: STOELRIVES14.

Here are some reasons why we are especially excited for the Expo:

  1. Agenda! The CBE Advisory Board did its homework and has lined up a unique mix of speakers covering a wide range of topics, including sales, marketing, regulatory and legal compliance, and business development, among others. You certainly don't want to miss the "Trademark Primer," presented by Anne Glazer of Stoel's Technology and Intellectual Property Group on Wednesday, May 7 at 11:00 a.m. Attendees will walk away with an understanding of the trademark clearance and registration process, as well as how to avoid conflicts. You can read more about the presenters and topics at Craft Beverage Expo Schedule at a Glance.
  2. Audience! The conference promises to unite artisan wine makers and craft beer, cider, and spirit producers over the course of two days. Each market segment will be able to share best practices with one another at a trade show dedicated exclusively to the growing craft industry.
  3. Exhibitors! More than 100 exhibitors and vendors committed to moving the craft beverage industry forward will be in attendance at the expo. Be sure to stop by Booth #405, where Stoel alcohol beverage lawyers will answer your hot topic industry questions. Follow us on Twitter at @stoelrives to test your knowledge on legal issues that impact your industry. Correct answers will receive a prize (while supplies last).

We look forward to mixing and mingling with our clients and friends at the 2014 Craft Beverage Expo.

About Stoel Rives LLP - Beverage & Hospitality Group
Over the past 30 years, Stoel Rives LLP has developed a strong reputation for the successful representation of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and alcohol beverage retailers on a wide range of legal matters, including corporate and finance, licensing and regulatory compliance, intellectual property, advertising/marketing law, employment, and real estate. The firm has nearly two dozen beverage and hospitality lawyers operating out of offices in Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and Boise.
 

Starbucks to Start Selling Beer and Wine in California

Expanding on its pilot programs in Seattle and Portland, Starbucks will begin selling wine and beer at a few select locations in Orange County, CA by the end of this year. The program will reportedly sell California vintages and micro-brews. You can read more about the story here and can I get that in a Venti?

Tasting Rooms Not Restaurants Says California Appeals Court

In a recent 3-0 decision, a California Appeals Court sided with Freemark Abbey Winery in its attempt to move its wine store and tasting room into a building in St. Helena which already contained a restaurant. The decision reversed the district courts granting of a preliminary injunction which would have stopped Freemark’s move entirely until a trial.

The building is owned by Freemark and the move was challenged by Silverado Brewing Co., the current operator of the existing restaurant. The challenge stems from Silverado’s lease, which gives it exclusive rights to run a restaurant in the building. Silverado claimed that moving Freemark’s tasting room into the same building would violate that exclusivity.

 

The court based its decision on the word “purvey” which, it stated, in this context simply meant selling. Any other reading, said the court, would lead to “absurd results.” The decision remanded the case back to district court with an order to vacate the broad preliminary injunction the district court had previously granted and an order to institute a new narrow injunction which would “prohibit[s] Freemark Abbey from selling food or beverages for consumption on the premises in any portion of the building” pending trial.

 

A copy of the court decision can be seen here.

Stoel Rives Holds California Wine Seminar

On March 8 and 9, Stoel Rives cosponsored, with Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, the 6th Annual Best Practices for Owning and Operating a Winery, held in Napa, CA. The well attended event covered such topics as valuation, water, energy, and branding. Stoel attorney’s Chris Hermann, John McKinsey, and Jake Storms were all panel speakers with John McKinsey acting as emcee for the second day of the conference.  

TTB Rules to Expand Sonoma AVAs

On Wednesday November 16, the TTB published a ruling (T.D. TTB-97, available here) amending the federal definition of the Russian River Valley viticultural area and the Northern Sonoma viticultural area, by expanding each. The action first began in August of 2008 when Gallo Family Vineyards submitted a petition for the amendment. After receiving numerous comments both for and against, the TTB ruled to expand the Russian River Valley viticultural area south and southeast by 14,044 acres to 169,029 acres, an increase of 9%. This expansion will include land just west of Rohnert Park and Cotati.

The decision will also expand the Northern Sonoma viticultural area to include the entirety of the Russian River Valley viticultural area. The expansion will add 44,244 acres to the Northern Sonoma area, bringing its total to 394,088 acres, also an increase of 9%.

The TTB specifically noted in the ruling that the expansion will not affect currently approved wine labels but will allow winemakers in the expanded area to utilize the two viticultural designations not previously available to them.

The ruling goes into effect on December 16, 2011.

Court Upholds San Diego County's Winery Ordinance

On April 15th, a California Superior Court Judge denied a challenge to San Diego County’s new Winery Ordinance. The Ordinance, passed in 2010 and available here, eases restrictions on tasting rooms and sales for smaller producers and allows others to essentially “fast-track” registration as a “small winery” with such designation allowing for pre-approved events, such as weddings.

The challengers claimed that the Ordinance’s Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) was inadequate. Judge Timothy Taylor disagreed, stating “[t]he Board of Supervisors was, by the EIR, adequately informed about the consequences of its decisions. The public (including petitioner) was provided with adequate information regarding the decisions of their elected leaders.”

The challengers have 30 days from the issuance of the ruling to appeal.

California State Water Board Moves on Frost Protection Program

The State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”) held a workshop last week on a proposed regulation designed to assess and mitigate water use from the Russian River by growers in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties during frost season. Though no formal action took place, the Board received numerous comments on the proposed regulation.

The regulation would add Section 862 to the California Code of Regulations establishing that any water diversion from the subject area from March 15 to May 15 not in accordance with a Board-approved Water Demand Management Program (“WDMP”) would be deemed unreasonable. This includes the pumping of hydraulically connected groundwater, but excludes diversions upstream of the Warm Springs and Coyote Dams.

 

In addition, the new regulation would require the WDMP to include:

·         An inventory of the frost diversion systems within the area subject to the WDMP

·         A stream stage monitoring program

·         Annual assessment of potential risks to salmonids from frost diversions

·         Identification and implementation of any corrective actions deemed necessary to protect salmonids

·         Annual reporting of the WDMP

The workshop was heavily attended by stakeholders from both government and industry and included a presentation of the projected cost of the proposed regulation. The draft economic report, available here, states that the average cost for those diverters in Mendocino County not requiring corrective actions would be $105.86 per acre in initial capital outlay and $28.50 per acre in annual costs; for Sonoma County, those numbers would be $59.98 and $18.74, respectively. For a 40-acre vineyard in Mendocino, this puts the total cost at $4,234 for initial capital outlay and $1,140 in annual costs; for Sonoma County, these numbers would be $2,399 and $749, respectively.

A common theme from the Board and the audience was that several important terms in the proposed regulation had yet to be satisfactorily defined. Chairman Hoppin, himself a farmer, repeatedly stated his hope that both sides would strive for a balance between protecting species and the water needs of farmers.

Several commentators expressed a need for the Board to address the permitting of offstream storage (i.e., storage ponds) as a tool to help address Russian River overdraft. Chairman Hoppin assured the audience that steps needed to be taken in this arena and that it was on the Board’s radar.

Formal rulemaking and the program’s environmental report are expected in mid-May, with final regulations in place by March 2012.

Stoel Rives Attorneys Speak at Wine Conference

This past week, Stoel Rives partners Chris Hermann and John McKinsey and associate Jake Storms all participated as panel speakers at the Best Practices for Owning and Operating a Winery conference, held at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa, CA. John also acted as co-host of the conference, which covered a wide variety of topics affecting wineries and vineyards, from siting and permitting and valuation to how to build a brand and protect trademarks.

Chris, Chair of Stoel’s Winery and Vineyard Management group, spoke on custom crush agreements and the pitfalls that can affect those who do not adequately protect themselves. John, California Co-Chair of Stoel’s Winery and Vineyard Management group, educated attendees on energy use and utilizing renewable electricity sources. Jake, an associate in the group, spoke on industry trends and California-specific legislative and project actions, including AB 605 and the California High-speed Rail.

 

The event was well attended, with over 40 stakeholders present at the two-day event. This marks the fifth year of the event, which was sponsored by Stoel Rives and Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, along with industry mainstay, Wines & Vines.

Sonoma Sets Fees, Program Schedule for Frost Protection Program

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has adopted the final measures for moving ahead with the County’s Frost Protection Program (the “Program”). This final act was merely a carry-over from the February 8 meeting where the Board adopted the fee structure for the Program and extended the time frame for implementation of the Program until 2012.

Under the new Section 11B of the County Code, the Program will be used to gather information on vineyard and orchard water usage in the Russian River Watershed. As previously blogged, creation of the program started after complaints were made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that frost protection measures that use water from the Russian River Watershed were causing the death of certain protected salmonid species. The federal agency threatened to take action under the Endangered Species Act if the County did nothing. The County moved to create the Program ahead of State action, which is expected to occur in the next 12-18 months.

 

Implementation of the Program was originally planned for the 2011 frost season. However, County staff informed the Board at the February 8 meeting that two hurdles had sprung up that would delay actual implementation until the frost season of 2012. The first was a seemingly 11th-hour move by certain vineyard stakeholders to not back the program due to concerns of the public nature of the information gathered. The second was the negotiations over the issue of indemnification between the County and the non-profit organization created to assist in the implementation and that would oversee the gages in the long-term.

 

While a delay in implementation to the 2012 frost season was acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was stated that any further delay would require action on the part of the agency. One Board member suggested that, due to the delay, the Board consider scrapping the Program and creating a fully voluntary concept. This idea was not acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was quickly discarded. 

 

Vineyards and orchards within the Program’s umbrella must register with the County Agricultural Commission annually between January 1 and March 1. This year’s registration must occur by June 1. The fee set for the Program is $64.00 per site. This fee will be assessed annually with the required registration. The County estimates there are some 360 sites within the Program’s boundaries.

 

The Program will have to conform to any future State action regarding the Russian River Watershed. However, the Board was confident that the Program would meet with acceptance at the State level.

Renewable Electricity and Wine - A Perfect Pairing

    

Wind Turbines and Solar ArrayWhile wineries and vineyards have long been moving toward being “green,” several have taken the next step by installing renewable energy generation onsite. One of the most recent is August Cellars, just outside Newberg, Oregon. The winery recently installed a 150-foot-tall, 50-kilowatt wind turbine. August Cellars maneuvered around the somewhat prohibitive cost of the project (between $70,000 and $100,000) by not actually owning the turbine, but instead leases the turbine from a third party with an option to buy.

August Cellars is following in the footsteps of such giants as Constellation Wines, which, in September 2010, announced it would increase its solar photovoltaic (PV) usage to nearly 4MW with new installations at its Estancia, Ravenswood, and Clos du Bois wineries in California. These systems would expand on the company’s already existing use of solar PV at its Gonzales winery. Constellation will own the systems and take advantage of the tax credits. Once completed, the installations will cover nearly 100% of the energy needs of Estancia and Ravenswood, 75% of Clos du Bois, and 60% of Gonzales and is projected to save the wine giant nearly $1 million annually from reduced energy costs.

The move by wineries toward renewables is not merely a “West Coast thing” either. Red Caboose Winery, a 10,000-case rural winery located in Meridian, Texas, recently released a statement that it would be using a USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant of $15,617 to help install a solar PV system. According to the owners, the new system will allow the winery to have a net annual energy consumption of zero.

Benefits

If structured properly, installation of renewables can make economic sense for a winery/vineyard, creating significant financial savings from reduced energy costs. In addition, for a wine business, there is substantial public relations value to going “green.” When combined with other energy efficiencies, installing renewables can substantially reduce a winery/vineyard’s carbon footprint. This can, in turn, generate substantial brand goodwill from a public that is becoming increasingly aware of environmental consequences. This is especially true among the wine-drinking demographic.

Issues

Wineries and vineyards looking to install renewable energy often encounter a host of obstacles. Two of the largest are variability and cost.

Variability

Simply put, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Nor does power always cost the same or do governmental entities offer the same incentives. A winery or vineyard contemplating installation of a wind turbine or solar array should look closely at the available resource. This may mean paying for ancillary costs, such as scientific studies. It will assuredly mean a closer look at long-term planning to establish acceptable rates of return given the attendant risk and variability. 

Cost

In 2009 and the first part of 2010, installation of a commercial solar PV system in the United States with a capacity of 250-500kWDC averaged around $7.10 per installed watt before incentives and tax credits (click here for a more in-depth look). That price can drop to $4.00 per watt or lower after incentives and tax credits, with some larger projects (>2MW) seeing prices as little as $2.50 per watt. While this cost is projected to decline further, it still creates a significant initial capital outlay that may require many years to recoup. It therefore becomes important to view renewable installation in the long term.

With this in mind, wineries and vineyards have several ways of making the use of renewables cost-effective and attractive. These include using tax credits and grants, third-party ownership as in the August Cellars example, and taking advantage of such programs as Net Metering or Feed In Tariffs, where such programs are available.

  • Net Metering – This uses a special metering system that credits you for the excess power you generate. Net Metering allows a winery to avoid the full retail cost of electricity and pay only for its “net” use in each billing or truing up period.
  • Feed In Tariff (FIT) – A Feed In Tariff allows smaller renewable generators to sell their generation at set rates back to the utility. FIT contracts can be very restrictive and often run from five to 20 years. They also have modest, yet very predictable, rates of return. However, installations being used under a FIT program are generally not eligible for other programs, such as Net Metering.

While the obstacles can be daunting, installing renewable energy at your winery or vineyard can have substantial economic and marketing benefits. An owner contemplating installing a renewable energy system would best be served by having a good understanding of the local resources and looking into all avenues of funding. With proper planning, renewable energy can make your “reds” and “whites” feel green.

Conjunctive Labeling Comes to Sonoma County

               With the turn of the calendar and after nearly a year of political wrangling, conjunctive labeling will be the norm for Sonoma County wineries beginning in 2014. Passed by unanimous vote in both the state assembly and senate in August and signed by Governor Schwartzenegger at the end of September, AB 1798 will require wineries using the name of any of the 13 recognized American Viticulture Areas (AVA) within Sonoma County on their labels to include “Sonoma County” as well. The bill is not retroactive as it applies only to wines bottled after January 1, 2014. Failure to comply is considered a misdemeanor and subjects the violator to possible revocation of their ABC license. To achieve compliance, it will be necessary to file for and receive a new Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) from the TTB for those labels already approved.

Response to the new requirements has been mixed. Pushed heavily by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and the Sonoma County Vintners, Nick Frey, the Commission’s president, stated, “In this increasingly competitive wine market, building awareness for Sonoma County and the wine regions within the county is critical to Sonoma County grape growers and the wineries they supply. AB 1798 will ensure that consumers recognize every bottle of wine produced from Sonoma County grapes.” However, several large, well-known wine producers in the region see the legislation as diluting their already well-established brands, in addition to the added cost and confusion of including “Sonoma County” on an often already crowded label.

Some of the better known of Sonoma’s AVAs are the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Dry Creek Valley. California requires conjunctive labeling for three other viticulture areas: Napa Valley, Lodi, and Paso Robles.

New California Law Streamlines Instructional Tasting Licenses

          On the list of California laws affecting the wine industry in the New Year is AB 605 – the Instructional Tasting Events License. Introduced in 2009 and signed into law September 23, 2010, AB 605 adds to the Business and Professions Code sections 23396.6 and 25503.56. The additions allow the ABC to issue a single “instructional tasting license” to any holder of an off-sale retail license, thus doing away with the need for retailers/suppliers to get a permit for every “instructional tasting” event. Retailers granted an instructional tasting license would be allowed to hold an “event for consumers on the subject of wine, beer, or distilled spirits, including, but not limited to, the history, nature, values, and characteristics of wine, beer, or distilled spirits, and the methods of presenting and serving wine, beer, or distilled spirits.” These events may include the consumption of alcohol.

          The retailers may not conduct the events themselves. However, they may invite “authorized licensees” (i.e., holders of manufacturing or supply licenses) to conduct them. The retailer may hold the event if, among other things, the authorized license holder is unable to attend and the event has been advertised and scheduled. In addition, the retailer can’t supply the alcohol for the event; it must be supplied by the authorized licensees or purchased from the retailer by the authorized licensees at the going rate.

          The events must be located at a cordoned-off section of the retailer’s premises. The law also sets stringent restrictions on servers and attendees (no one under 21), types of alcohol (wine, spirits, or beer but no combinations), charge (can’t have one), serving amount (one ounce for wine), and event times (between 10 am and 9 pm).

          The new licenses are not permitted to be issued to any off-sale licensee at a location where gasoline is sold, unless the licensee operates a “fully-enclosed” off-sale retail space of at least 10,000 square feet (i.e., Costco, Walmart, Safeway, etc.). Nor can they be issued to licensees at locations “with a total of less than 5,000 square feet of interior retail space” unless yearly gross sales of alcohol at that location are at least 75% of total gross sales (i.e., liquor stores).

          The fee for the new license is $300. Violations of the age limit are a misdemeanor and carry a penalty of $200 (for both the retailer and the minor). A violation of any section carries a penalty of suspension of the instructional license for the retailer and suspension of the privilege of conducting instructional tasting events for the authorized licensee for a period of six months to a year.

SONOMA COUNTY VOTES ON FROST PROTECTION PLAN FOR VINEYARDS

On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance creating a plan designed to protect both vineyard frost protection measures and endangered species in the Russian River. After nearly a year of negotiations, the Board added Section 11B to the County Code, creating a registration program for grapegrowers and plan to assess water use practices for frost protection by utilizing over 100 gauges placed throughout the watershed. Information on usage will be presented to the Board on a yearly basis and will be used to potentially mitigate effects of diversions on a real-time basis.

The move to create a program started when Federal officials informed the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) that overuse of water from the Russian River and its tributary, Felta Creek, for frost protection was negatively impacting endangered Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead smelt. Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that continued overuse and endangerment could result in a ‘take’ under Section 9(a)(1) of the Federal Endangered Species Act, subjecting those responsible to fines and penalties.

 

The adopted program will be supervised by Sonoma County and includes a scientific review panel. The ordinance provides that the gauges will be overseen by an entity comprised of members of the grapegrowing community. The State Board had rejected an earlier proposal by grapegrowers to voluntarily adopt preventative measures, demanding there be some method to “…kick out bad actors.” On October 27, 2010, the State Board published a Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Public Scoping Meeting for their own proposed regulations applicable to the grapegrowers diverting from the Russian River watershed. The State’s plan would cover water diverted for frost protection from the Russian River in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and hydraulically connected groundwater.

 

Section 11B creates a mandatory registration program for all Sonoma county grapegrowers. Growers will be required to register with the County Agricultural Commissioner starting in mid-January, 2011 and running through March 1, 2011. Failure to comply could subject violators to fines ranging from $500-$1,000. The Board of Supervisors will vote on a fee schedule for the program in January.

FDA May Issue Warning on Alcoholic Energy Drinks; States Move to Ban "Blackout in a Can"

Amidst rising incidences of hospitalizations in college and teenage drinkers linked to consumption of alcoholic energy drinks, the Washington State Liquor Control Board banned their sale effective tomorrow, November 18, 2010. The move came on the heels of a request by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, whose office stated in a November 10 press release that they were “…particularly concerned that these drinks tend to target young people.”

The Liquor Control Board placed the ban in an emergency ruling which will last for 120 days. During that time, the Liquor Control Board will move to make the ban permanent. Liquor Control Board Chairperson Sharon Foster stated, “[t]he Board is acting in the public safety…the Board is acting now to ensure these products do not contribute to a tragedy before the Food and Drug Administration or Legislature can act.” Earlier this year, the Liquor Control Board had lobbied for State legislative action to ban the sale of caffeinated malt beverages in Washington but those efforts were unsuccessful. A list of particular products affected by the Liquor Control Board’s ruling can be seen here.

 

Washington’s ban is merely the most recent action in an ever increasing movement by states to control the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission Chairman stated in an October press release that, “…alcoholic energy drinks should be removed from the market until further research isdone.”  The OLCC also stated that it is currently looking into possible regulatory efforts with the state legislature and is reaching out to community organizations to warn them of the dangers of the beverages.

 

While California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has not yet made a statement regarding the drinks, Connecticut announced Monday that it had reached agreements with state distributors to voluntarily stop shipments of caffeinated alcoholic beverages starting December 10, 2010. Michigan has banned one particular brand of caffeinated alcoholic beverage, Four Loko. New York has reached an agreement with Phusion Projects LLC, the manufacturer of Four Loko, to stop sales in the state until “…emerging science, regulatory developments or other relevant changes in circumstances arise." Utah and Oklahoma have followed Washington’s lead in banning the sale of any brands altogether. Massachusetts’ Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission stated that it will file an emergency ruling, similar to Washington’s, on Monday, November 22, 2010.

 

At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) is currently reviewing whether caffeine is a safe additive to alcoholic beverages. A negative finding would essentially ban the sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages nationwide. It is widely assumed the FDA will, in fact, reach a negative finding. NY Senator Chuck Schumer, who has been lobbying for a ban on the drinks, stated that the FDA decision “…should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks.” The FDA decision is expected within the week.