To get a winery license and begin operations all federal, state, (county and city if necessary) regulations will need to be met, which include obtaining several licenses, permits, and bonds.
You will want to make contact with the various entities early in the planning stage to be sure all of the necessary licenses and permits are available by the time you want to open.
At the local level, the typical oversight will be regarding health & safety, waste and wastewater disposal, zoning, and traffic.
At the state level, the licensing is typically benign as most states typically follow the federal requirements. Be sure to contact your state’s liquor commission to be sure though.
At the Federal level you will need to be concerned with the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Federal law currently allows any person 21 years or older to make 100 gallons of wine and up to 200 gallons per household for personal consumption before TTB oversight, however state laws may make it lower. The TTB is responsible for administrating the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act which was originally set up to protect consumers from deceptive labeling and advertising.
One of TTB’s responsibilities is to assure that wineries are capable of paying the taxes due on the wine they produce, store, import, or handle. In order to make this assurance, each wine business is required to obtain bonding, which is basically an insurance policy which names the TTB as the beneficiary should you not pay the taxes when you remove wine from the bonded area. The insurance premium is based on the capacity of the winery and on the alcohol content of the wine(s). As a winery grows and capacity increases, so does the amount required for the bond.
Every phase of the winemaking process will need to be documented to satisfy the TTB including; materials received and used, amount of wine bottled, stored and shipped, inventory records for wine in bond, wine removed from bond, and taxes paid.
Last your labels will need to be reviewed and approved before selling any wine, which is handled through the TTB.
The process of getting a winery licensed can take as little as six months up to several years, depending on your ability to push through the process, size of your winery and local red tape. It is typically a relatively straight forward and easy process but definitely not fast. Many of the problems you will likely encounter will be at the local level. At the Federal & State levels there are a clear list of things that have to be done and they have staff that do this on a daily basis and are available to help. Many times at the local level, they only deal with winery licenses occasionally or if you are really lucky, they had never dealt with at all.
It is easy to see that operating a winery is not for those who are not willing to commit to maintaining the required paperwork, however there are a number of computer programs available to assist in this chore ranging from simple spreadsheets to winery specific programs.
The best advice to getting your winery licenses is to keep persistent and keep at it. It will be frustrating especially since your winery has to be fully operational before getting a winery license