Homemade wine contests to be legalized

  • 5/1/2008: A1: Bob Bennett, left, blends wine while Bruce Coston takes in the aroma in a glass as they mix a Bordeaux at Bennett's Healdsburg area home Tuesday.

    PC: Bob Bennett, left, blends wine while Bruce Coston takes in the aroma in a glass as they mix a Bordeaux wine at Bennett's home on Tuesday afternoon, April 29, 2008. (Press Democrat/ Christopher Chung)

A bill to legalize home winemaking competitions passed both houses of the state Legislature Thursday.

The Assembly approved SB 607 on a 56-24 vote in the morning, and the Senate followed suit on a 40-0 vote in the afternoon.

Authored by state Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D?Santa Rosa, the bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor is expected to sign the bill by the weekend and the new law will take effect immediately, Wiggins said.

The bill makes it legal for home winemakers to submit their handmade vintages to competitions. Dozens of private groups around the state, including state and county fairs, have hosted such competitions for decades.

But the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control recently warned an Illinois man interested in hosting a home winemaking competition in Santa Rosa this summer that state law did not allow such competitions.

Existing law only allows adults to make 200 gallon of wine per year ?for personal consumption.?

?That language, however well-intentioned, is badly outdated,? Wiggins said. ?It fails to reflect what we have learned from decades of experience ? that home winemaker competitions can be safe, that they can be held responsibly, and that they can contribute greatly to the experience that is California wine.

"Our state and county fairs have had a long tradition of competitions for everything from homemade cakes and quilts to homemade beer and wine,? Wiggins added. ?Correcting this outdated law, which criminalized home winemaker competitions, was urgently needed."

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