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Storm brewing for beer, winemakers during shutdown

When the partial government shutdown ends, hundreds of thousands of workers will get back pay — and that can’t come soon enough. That day will bring back pay for federal workers, but a backlog for workers in beer and wine.

The buzz-kill: Shutdown at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Before a new wine or brew can be labeled and sold, it must be approved by the TTB. With no approvals issued during the shutdown, applications are flooding into the bureau while those in the alcohol beverage business just have to wait.

“Without the label you can’t sell it,” said Scott Osborn, co-owner of Fox Run Vineyards overlooking Seneca Lake. Osborn said Fox Run has at least three new wine labels needing approval. January through April and May is a big time for getting new wine labels approved, he said. When the TTB is running normally, approval takes about three weeks.

Even after the bureau reopens, Osborn figured it will take a couple of months before you can get a new label due to the backlog.

“It’s a lose-lose-lose situation,” stated Jim Trezise, president of Wine America, in last week’s newsletter from the national organization of American wineries. The “inability to get approvals has a ripple effect, since wineries may not sell their product without them, delaying their cash flow as well as the various taxes that federal and state governments rely on.

“And, of course, consumers can’t enjoy the wines.”

At another Finger Lakes winery, Heron Hill — which operates a winery operation on Keuka Lake and tasting rooms on Canandaigua and Seneca lakes — managing partner Eric Frarey said Heron Hill has been working since last fall on a total redesign for its classic Heron Hill Wine label.

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