GREENFIELD, CA. — Ann Hougham, owner of Mesa Del Sol Vineyards in Greenfield, has written to President Donald Trump and various Congressional leaders expressing her deep frustration at the lack of movement to lift a freeze on expanding the Arroyo Seco American Viticultural Area where her vineyard and winery are located.
“I am writing as a small vineyard/winery owner frustrated over the lack of movement to lift the blanket ‘Regulatory Freeze Pending Review’ put in place as of January 2017 that is egregiously affecting my business,” writes Hougham in a letter dated Dec. 5. “How many other businesses are affected by this ‘Regulatory Freeze Pending Review?’ I am extremely frustrated, I can attest to that!
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The Arroyo Seco AVA is an up-and-coming region for wines of distinction. According to Hougham, wines made from grapes grown on her land have been garnering high honors, but she is not able to claim that the grapes grown on her land are in the Arroyo Seco AVA, nor can she label her wines as such.
Since December 2016, Hougham has had a “Petition to Expand the Arroyo Seco American Viticultural Area” signed and ready to go to public comment before publishing, just awaiting permission from the U.S. Treasury, but which is now stalled by the regulatory freeze.
“A ruling on this petition has absolutely no tax implications. Every person and entity is in favor of this ruling,” she writes. “In my case, a ruling in favor and the publishing of this petition is righting something that was previously thought to be fact. For me and the other wineries that purchase my grapes, however, it is taxing.”
Hougham’s petition has been “perfected” and meets the U.S. Alcohol and Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulatory requirements for expanding AVAs. She was told in December 2016, that the petition was on the desk of Amy Greenberg, Director of TTB’s Regulations and Rulings Division, awaiting her signature before heading to a 90-day public comment period.
A few weeks later, Hougham was told that there was a halt to the process because a new administration was coming in, which is customary. In January 2017, she was informed that the Treasury Department was waiting for positions to be filled by the new administration. Then the regulatory freeze occurred, halting the entire process.
“I have spoken out because this issue needs to be addressed, not just for me but for many others,” Hougham writes. “Our government has ground to a halt, freezing businesses from moving forward. I know there are bigger issues at hand however, please, do this important piece of housekeeping and let’s move forward.”
Hougham said that she joined the Monterey County Growers and Vintners Association (MCGVA) specifically to be placed on the Arroyo Seco AVA map. She discovered, however, that her vineyard in Arroyo Seco was not in the Arroyo Seco AVA, but was contiguous to it. But she points out that, since 2001, it has been designated such by TTB permits, California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) permits, Monterey County permits, and numerous distinguished wine labels, including her own Mesa Del Sol label.
She then began the arduous task of petitioning the TTB to expand the Arroyo Seco AVA to prove that the name and the area’s distinguishing features applied to her lands as well.
It took her two months of research to compile the evidence necessary, write the petition and garner a slew of signatures in support of her petition and submit it to the TTB. On May 19, 2015, Greenberg wrote her informing her that her petition had been “perfected” and met TTB’s regulatory requirements for expanding AVAs.
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Her petition then went to the bottom of the list of the TTB’s “List of Pending American Viticultural Area Petitions” and eventually began making the rounds of various government agencies for review and approval. Her petition is now at the top of the list, which continues to grow longer with no movement forward due to the freeze.
“A regulatory freeze sounds good in principle, however, it freezes movement forward for everything across the board,” Hougham said.