California law makes it easier to blur the line between beer and wine
Dec. 26, 2019
The latest trend in craft beer isn’t hazy IPA or kettle sours or nitro coffee stouts. It’s wine.
Two San Francisco craft breweries are investing seriously in winemaking. And, thanks to a California law that will take effect Jan. 1, a lot more breweries may soon follow.
The law, AB1825, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in October, allows (among other things) breweries, wineries and distilleries to hold overlapping licenses for the same space. So a brewery, for instance, could obtain a winemaking license for the same facility in which it brews beer – and now, for the first time, the company would not have to separate the production and storage of the two beverages.
That’s a departure from the current law, which requires that different beverages be kept and made in completely separate spaces, with completely separate equipment, even if those licenses are contiguous.
“You could have a beer manufacturer’s license and a winegrower’s license under the same roof, but there had to be a magic line separating them,” explained Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association. “You could not share a fermentation tank. You could not even drive a forklift across that magic line.”
Now, the magic line disappears. One immediate beneficiary of the new law is Woods Beer Co., which has breweries and taprooms in San Francisco and Oakland. Woods already has both a brewery license (type 23) and a winery license (type 2) at its plant on Treasure Island, and until now it has had to observe the magic line. The crew even put up a fence at one point to prove to Alcoholic Beverage Control that they were following the rules, said owner Jim Woods. The new law, he said, “will be really helpful for us to be utilizing our full space.”
Bernal Heights brewery Barebottle will be taking advantage, too. This year, its brewers partnered with winemaker Dave Gifford to make some wine at his Berkeley winery, Windchaser, and hopes to move at least part of the wine production process into its San Francisco brewhouse in the new year.
Why would a brewery want to make wine? It’s a logical next step in creative craft brewing, for one thing. Over the past five years it’s become increasingly common for California brewers to add wine, grape juice or grapes to beers; virtually every leading brewery has done it, from Almanac to the Rare Barrel to Fieldwork.
That was how it started for Woods Beer Co., which released a wine-beer hybrid series called Divine Origins in 2015. The team brewed a chocolaty black ale with Mourvedre grapes, a citrusy blonde ale with Albariño grapes and a dunkelweizen with Cabernet Franc grapes that tastes like Tootsie Rolls.
Then, in 2017, the company opened the Outer Sunset taproom Woods Outbound, and partner Matt Coelho put together a short list of wines to serve alongside the Woods beers. “Pretty soon we noticed that wine was 30 to 40% of our sales every month,” said Jim Woods.
Should they be making their own wine, he wondered? It wouldn’t be too far removed from what they were already doing with Divine Origins. “We said, ‘Maybe we just won’t add beer to it,'” recalled Jim Woods.
The 2018 edition marked the first vintage of Woods Wine, with the help of consulting winemaker Chris Scanlan, owner of Pain & Glory Cellars in Napa and assistant winemaker Kyle Jeffrey. They’re leaning heavily into the natural wine ethos, eschewing filtration, cultured yeast and sulfur additions.
The lineup includes a textured, honeysuckle-accented orange wine of Sauvignon Blanc, fermented with the grape skins, and frothy, fruity pet-nats – a sparkling wine style popular in natural wine circles – of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. They’ve even coined a new term, “keg nat,” for a sparkling wine that finished fermenting in a keg instead of a bottle.
But making wine can accomplish more for a brewery than simply scratching a creative itch. It can also offer a strategic advantage. “In a relatively compressed period of time, the industry has become more competitive,” said McCormick. “Five years ago, if you opened a taproom, the people would come. Now breweries are looking for ways to bring more people in the door.”
That was the thinking at Barebottle, whose type 23 license does not allow it to serve any alcoholic beverages other than its own – not even any guest beers. (Many brewery taprooms, like those of Woods Beer Co., get around this rule because they are restaurants.)