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Wine Business – A Dream or Bureaucratic Nightmare?

I will work for wine - just make sure it's good wine!

You might have read the article in the Puget Sound Business Journal about David LeClaire’s highly anticipated Seattle mega wine store and thought, “Wow, why hasn’t anyone done that here in Seattle before?” While the article notes that the business is “in the funding stage” it doesn’t delve deeper into the challenges anyone opening up a new wine business in Washington faces.

If you’ve read this blog before, you are probably aware that I am a student in the wine technology program at South Seattle Community College. Sure, most of the classes at Northwest Wine Academy fill me with optimism about my future in the wine industry. That is, with the exception of  the Wine Sales and Marketing class. While taking this class I seriously started wondering why anyone in Washington would want to go into the wine business. To give you a taste of the medicine we received, I recall a day when we had a guest speaker from the the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). A student ran her idea for a winery by him. “No,” she was told. Her idea wouldn’t get approved. So she presented ideas 2 and 3. No, and no again! Isn’t that hard to swallow?

Plus, I had no idea how many licenses are required to run a winery. Then there are the requirements for price filing, monthly tax reporting, sampling and tasting regulations, record keeping inspections, signage requirements. Even something that seems as simple as a wine label has a litany of regulations that must be followed. Yet, this is barely the tip of the iceberg. During a recent conversation with Jeff Jirka of Davenport Cellars he said that the stack of paperwork he had to fill out for licensing the winery was probably an inch thick. People start a winery to live their dream. Does this amount of red tape and bureaucracy sound like a dream?

Dealing with the TTB as a retailer seems a little less onerous, but it does require registering your business with them, being subject to inspection by TTB officers, and maintaining records to their satisfaction. In addition, there is still that matter of funding your dream of becoming a wine retailer.

Am I writing this to discourage anyone from going into the wine business? Absolutely not. Despite what I’ve learned, it is still my dream to be a part of the wine industry! I simply hope this knowledge will encourage those of us who do patronize wine shops and wineries to better appreciate those businesses, and the people behind them. After all, aren’t they helping fuel our passion for good wine?

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