Wineries and breweries face delays in labeling and selling new products as partial government shutdown drags on

When the partial government shutdown ends, hundreds of thousands of workers will get back pay — and that can’t come soon enough. That day will bring back pay for federal workers, but a backlog for workers in beer and wine.

The buzz-kill: Shutdown at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Before a new wine or brew can be labeled and sold, it must be approved by the TTB. With no approvals issued during the shutdown, applications are flooding into the bureau while those in the alcohol beverage business just have to wait.

“Without the label you can’t sell it,” said Scott Osborn, co-owner of Fox Run Vineyards overlooking Seneca Lake. Osborn said Fox Run has at least three new wine labels needing approval. January through April and May is a big time for getting new wine labels approved, he said. When the TTB is running normally, approval takes about three weeks.

Even after the bureau reopens, Osborn figured it will take a couple of months before you can get a new label due to the backlog.

“It's a lose-lose-lose situation,” stated Jim Trezise, president of Wine America, in last week’s newsletter from the national organization of American wineries. The “inability to get approvals has a ripple effect, since wineries may not sell their product without them, delaying their cash flow as well as the various taxes that federal and state governments rely on.

“And, of course, consumers can't enjoy the wines.”

At another Finger Lakes winery, Heron Hill — which operates a winery operation on Keuka Lake and tasting rooms on Canandaigua and Seneca lakes — managing partner Eric Frarey said Heron Hill has been working since last fall on a total redesign for its classic Heron Hill Wine label.

“A lot of planning has gone into it and it is unfortunate with the government shutdown,” Frarey said. Though Heron Hill got a jump on applying ahead of schedule for approval, now it’s unclear when they will be able to release the new label for the winery’s classic series that comprises its largest selling wines. Heron Hill had hoped to introduce the new label this spring. Wines with a mere change of date and previously approved labels can continue to be sold. But “as far as new products” Frarey said, none will likely to be approved during the first half of 2019.

Fox Run’s Osborn, who also sits on the Wine America board, said that craft beer makers who frequently make new brews are even more impacted by the shutdown at the TTB.

Todd Reardon, owner and head brewer of Peacemaker Brewing Company in Canandaigua, has seven different beers on tap at the brewery on Pleasant Street. Luckily, he said he doesn’t currently have new beers needing approval — but he will soon, as he plans a special brew for St. Patrick’s Day.

“I am concerned there may be an issue there,” he said.

In South Bristol, at Arbor Hill Winery and Brew & Brats, co-owner John Brahm said he can continue to sell the three beers for which he received approval a number of years ago. As for the winery, Brahm said he had hoped to introduce at least one new wine label this spring. Applying online as he has in the past, approval would generally takes just a couple weeks. But not with shutdown at the TTB.

“With each day that goes by, the backlog will get bigger and bigger,” Brahm said.