Wineries help save home winemakers event

Sonoma Home Winemakers are urging their members to participate in their annual Home Winemakers Celebration Sept. 7. But this year they won’t be pouring their own wines.

Reacting to a stern interpretation of state law that has shut down similar events this year, the local group doesn’t want the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control to come knocking on its door, even though the event is now in its ninth year, with no previous problems.

“As soon as we heard (of the problem), we set up a meeting with the ABC,” said Joanne Snyder, president of the group (formerly known as VOMDES). “In two days, our past president, Philip Sales, was able to get representatives from two state legislators at the meeting. He deserves full credit for getting their support.”

“All four state legislators who represent all or part of Sonoma County are on board,” said Sales. “Language has been written and legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Lois Wolk to take care of this problem.”

The five-page draft is simple and is intended to be acted upon quickly. It contains language almost identical to existing law allowing amateur beer-makers to pour their brews at fundraising events. Snyder said she’s not sure why there was a discrepancy in the first place, but beer brewers were treated differently than winemakers.

This came as a relief to Toni Castrone, executive director of the Sonoma Community Center, sponsors of Beervana, an annual brewer’s competition. While they get a permit every year, she wondered if they had just not “come under the radar.” But their event is quite different. “Ours is a competition. We charge for admission, but none of the winning beers are tasted or auctioned. We only pour commercially brewed beer,” she explained.

Apparently, home wine competitions are also legal, although the law was amended as late as 2008 to allow them.

Snyder said there are other local heroes in this situation. “Just hours after we posted our first notice, four cases of wines were donated by local wineries. The first man to step up was Peter Haywood. Now we are getting donations from many of our local wineries. I am so proud of them for supporting us.”

While they’ve received about 15 cases to date, Snyder said they need a lot more. But she hopes this is the only year this has to happen. The legislation will be introduced with the hope that it gets passed in time for next fall’s fundraiser. Snyder said a petition is being prepared which will be circulated by the Sonoma group, the Dry Creek-Lakoya Volunteer Firemen and a nonprofit that supports Clearlake Performing Arts, the groups that had similar events canceled. The petition will support the proposed legislation.

This year’s celebration, which will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. in the rear courtyard of the Swiss Hotel, is now licensed and all proceeds will again be donated to the Sonoma Valley High School Boosters. Nearly $100,000 has been raised during the eight years of the event to support sports, drama, arts and music programs.

The event will be much like it was in previous years. Home winemakers who participated poured one-ounce tastes, and participants were allowed to bid on their favorite wines through silent auction bid sheets. The process will be the same, only commercially produced wines will be sold instead of homemade wines. Tickets are $35 per person and can be purchased on the group’s website, sonomahomewine.org. Other non-wine articles will also be included in the silent auction.

According to state law, home winemakers can make up to 100 gallons a year for each adult in a household, or up to 200 gallons total. It must be for personal use and cannot be served elsewhere or sold.