A homemade wine festival without homemade wines?
That's the fate of the annual Sonoma Home Winemakers Celebration after state alcohol regulators would not allow unlicensed bottles at this year's event.
The Sept. 7 fundraiser will still go on, but will feature only commercially produced vintages, organizers said.
The benefit for the Sonoma Valley High School Boosters is the third North Coast event derailed by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control this year, prompting lawmakers to craft a bill that would allow amateurs to pour their wines at nonprofit functions.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said she is close to introducing such legislation.
"The intent is to allow nonprofits to receive a donation and benefit," said Wolk, whose 3rd District includes all of Napa County and part of Sonoma County. "Home winemakers will get a chance for more people to enjoy their products."
Organizers of the three North Coast events say this is the first year ABC has raised any questions about the fundraisers, which have run for years without interference.
State alcohol officials insist there is no new crackdown and that they are merely enforcing a long-established law that bans the sale of homemade wines, even when donated as raffle items or included with admission at fundraisers.
"During routine review of applications for some recent nonprofit one-day licenses, ABC became aware of the intent to sell homemade wines and communicated to event organizers that state law did not allow for this," ABC spokesman John Carr said.
In June, ABC told the nonprofit Clearlake Performing Arts that it could not pour homemade wine and beer at its annual fundraiser, the first time in its 11-year run that the event had drawn such notice from the agency.
Firefighters at the Dry Creek-Lokoya Volunteer Fire Department canceled their benefit in St. Helena last month after ABC scrutiny. The 30-year-old event had been expected to add $16,000 to the rural fire department's bottom line.
Organizers of the St. Helena event may have inadvertently tipped off ABC officials to the Sonoma fundraiser, said Joanne Snyder, president of Sonoma Home Winemakers.
"They said, &‘How come Sonoma Home Winemakers get to do this?' They kind of told on us," she said.
The Sonoma organization asked state representatives for a legislative fix. That's when Sen. Wolk got involved.
"We got out in front of the issue instead of whining about it," Snyder said.
If Wolk's bill makes it into law, it would take effect Jan. 1. Wolk said she is working with ABC officials to craft the bill. It is not expected to receive much opposition, even from wine industry groups.
"This issue, I think, lends itself to a legislative solution that allows home winemakers to legitimately donate their wines for use by nonprofits," said Paul Kronenberg, president of Family Winemakers of California, a trade group for commercial winemakers. "We don't think it is going to displace much of what nonprofits do with commercial winemakers."
Snyder said wineries have donated 15 cases of wine for the Sept. 7 event at the Swiss Hotel in Sonoma. She said she will gladly pour the commercial wines this year but hopes to go back to serving homemade wines next year.
"I am amazed and proud of all the support we have received," she said. "This is our happiest, most fun event all year."