TURNER, Ore. (AP) – Winegrowers in the south of Oregon faced financial collapse after a California wine producer smoked natural smoke and refused to buy their grapes. Now the rejected fruit that has been turned into wine by local winemakers is faced with a new setback.
Two Oregon wineries stepped in to buy the grapes, but the Oregon Solidarity wines they brought to the market on time are in doubt, because the federal agency that approves labels is a huge disadvantage, a hangover from the closure of the government.
On a national level, makers of alcoholic beverages make upsetting business activities and lost revenue. If another stop starts within about two weeks, as President Donald Trump has threatened if Congress does not give money for a boundary wall, the backlog could persist.
The American Senate Ron Wyden and the American Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Oregon Democrats, warned of "disastrous" consequences in a letter to John Manfreda, manager of the American tax office for alcohol and tobacco. They urged Manfreda to devote all means to clearing the backlog of applications.
"This regulatory paralysis is disproportionately detrimental to small, craft brewers, vintners, cider makers and distillers, who depend on new product releases for the survival of their businesses," Wyden and Blumenauer said Tuesday.
Michael Kaiser, vice president of WineAmerica, a national association of American wineries, said the gap will also extend the lead time of new applications to around 36 days. The federal alcohol agency aims for two to four days. It must issue permits for beverages that are sold over government lines and approve the labels.
"This will affect wineries of all shapes and sizes," Kaiser said in an e-mail.
Californian winery Copper Cane canceled contracts last year to buy 2,000 tons (1,814 tons) of grapes, according to Lab tests, smoke deficiency last year's forest fires covered a large part of Oregon with smoke and ash.
Jim Blumling, Vice President of Operations at Copper Cane, said that both laboratory and sensory testing showed a high degree of smoke odor and that the most effective test time is as close to the harvest as possible.
But independent laboratory analyzes showed that much of the crop was not adversely affected, said the local wineries.
Willamette Valley Vineyards head winemaker Joe Ibrahim had tasted a few of the grapes, looking for an ashy taste in the shell that would reveal something. He did not find one.
"The wines are actually very nice wines," said Ibrahim, next to a huge barrel in the cellar of his winery with the rose of pinot noir, the first of the three Oregon Solidarity wines to be bottled.
The vineyard outside the small town of Turner and King Estate Winery in Eugene bought 150 tons (136 tons) of the grapes, enough to produce 88,800 bottles of wine. Eyrie Vineyards and Silvan Ridge Winery have helped to make the wines.
Willamette Valley and King Estate would have bought more grapes, but they already overrun the vine, said director Christine Collier Clair of Willamette. One grower also had crop insurance for 1500 tons (1360 tons), she said.
The label request for the rose was sent and approved before the government was shut down, Clair said. The federal agency still has to approve labels for Oregon Solidarity-chardonnay and pinot noir.
Retailers rely on having the wines and doing promotions, she said. The wines are sold nationally and can be purchased online. Rogue Valley Vintners, a non-profit organization in the south of Oregon that consists of wine producers, growers and partners from the community, gets the proceeds.
Clair said she hopes the chardonnay label will be approved in time for the planned release of May. Spokesman Thomas Hogue of alcohol and tobacco tax and trade organization said that there are many applications to work through.
"We are still working on assessing the workload," said Hogue in an e-mail on Monday, when federal workers returned to work after five weeks. "I think it's safe to say that our backlog has roughly doubled as a result of the shutdown."
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