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When you make wine for personal consumption or organized events such as a homemade wine exhibition, federal regulations permit you to make up to 100 gallons of wine in a calendar year for a one-adult household or up to 200 gallons if two or more adults live in the home. However, regulations are more stringent when you produce homemade wine for sale. Federal, state and local licensing rules apply.
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is a federal agency. You must submit an application and receive approval before making wine for commercial use. The TTB, which a part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, offers a secure online application process. Start with the following steps:
- Determine your business type: Select "Alcohol Producers and Manufacturers" and scroll down to read the definition for "Winery/Taxpaid Wine Bottling House."
- Gather your documents: Use the drop-down menu to select "Winery/Taxpaid Wine Bottling House" to get a list of necessary documents to support the permit application for your home winemaking business. Separate requirements depend on whether you're setting up operations as a corporation, a limited liability company or a partnership. You need a diagram of the winery, lease agreement or proof of property ownership and a wine bond. Other documents may be required, such as a power of attorney or variance request.
- Register for an account: Registration is free. There is also a free tutorial that takes you through the application process.
State and Local Alcohol Beverage Authorities
In addition to a federal permit, you also need to obtain permits at the local level when you plan to sell homemade wine. Each state has its own authority to regulate the production, sale and distribution of alcohol within its borders. There may also be citywide or countywide regulations. Start with your state's alcoholic beverage control commission. The state office is responsible for processing your permit and can direct you to the appropriate office for seeking a local license.
Marketing and Selling Your Product
WineMaker magazine reminds home-based vintners that making the wine is the easiest part of the business. After you successfully navigate the permit and licensing process, you need to dedicate yourself to marketing and selling the products from your home winemaking business in an environment that has become increasingly competitive.
The U.S. is the world's biggest wine market. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reports that thousands of new brands are added to the market annually. How can you distinguish yourself in a crowded market? Consider some of these ideas:
- Use social media: Create interest and build brand awareness for free by posting on popular social media sites.
- Create winery merchandise: These can include logo items such as glassware and T-shirts.
- Offer customer loyalty programs: Reward customers with gifts or points for frequent, repeat and volume purchases.
- Special offers: Something as simple as a coupon with purchase can keep customers coming back.
- Wine tastings: Coordinate special events with local restaurants and wine bars.
Selling Wine Online
While it's possible to put homemade wine for sale online, you must obtain additional permits. Once you have a basic permit from the TBB and the retailer's and winery licenses from your state, you need a shipper's license for every state to which you plan to ship wine. You also need a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) license to ship out of state. Both of these can be obtained through the state liquor commission. Fees vary according to your state.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.