Wine Talk

Snooth User: napagirl68

Another attack on wine industry... Westover shut down for using volunteers

Posted by napagirl68, Sep 18, 2014.

As long as I've been wine tasting, I've encountered "volunteers'... those who pour for the winery, and get to learn the business, meet folks, and generally have a good time.  This has been going on for decades.  Now, it seems, the powers that be are cracking down on wineries for various crimes.  Evidently the use of volunteers is illegal.  Why they suddenly choose to enforce the laws is a mystery to me.

This follows a slew of recent finings/notifications to several Livermore wineries that they are not allowed to serve any type of food, except crackers, without a special food permit.  Why Alameda County is cracking down while the rest of Cali is lax is a mystery to me.  Something is up here, and i don't like it at all.


Reply by outthere, Sep 18, 2014.

Channel 7 is a little late to this party. We've been discussing this on WB for months. Sad story indeed.


ere is the text of the letter Westover vineyars sent folks on their mailing list -
 Westover Vineyards
  Dancing COWs
Important Announcement
Westover to start process
of closing the tasting room and ending the C.O.W./P.L.O.W. clubs
 We will start selling off inventory this weekend. 
 All wines will be at least 40% off and ports 50% off
until our inventories are liquidated. 
Unless a miracle happens, we plan to go out of business December 24, 2014
Recently the labor department fined our winery over $100,000 for having volunteers serving our customers. There is a California State law 1720.4, which says, "volunteers are illegal in the state of California." Almost all wineries use volunteers for one thing or another and many are not aware of this law. We are not the first winery to be hit. It appears to many that our state is declaring war on wineries and other small businesses.
Bill spoke with state assemblyman Wieckowski, a former attorney and representative of Fremont and surrounding area. He stated he was not aware of the law and he could not think why the labor department wouldn't simply issue a cease and desist order to get things legal. He commented, "government should not be in the business to put small businesses s out of business."
We are also working with Assembly member Quirk and hope to meet with him in October.
What can you do?
Come by the winery and purchase wine - help liquidate our inventories so we can pay the outrageous fines. Our winery only grossed $200,000 last year and the penalties equal about 10 years of net profits.
Contact your local state assembly members and senators via both their website and telephone and ask them to introduce legislation to change the law in California.
What we are proposing for legislation:
A. Provide the same labor exemption for small wineries and businesses which are extended to non-profits and government entities which allows for volunteers in the State of California.
B. Make it law that the State of California must first issue cease and desist orders for small business violations and allow businesses to get legal before any fines. Only after they have been warned can they be penalized for further violations.
C. Require the State of California Department of Labor be proactive and go out of their way to do outreach, inform all businesses of the state law.
How to contact local California State Senators and Assembly Members:
Assembly Member Bill Quirk
Fremont, Sunol, San Lorenzo, Hayward etc..
District Office
22320 Foothill Blvd, Suite 540
Hayward, CA 94541
Tel: (510) 583-8818
Fax: (510) 583-8800
Senator Ellen Corbett
San Leandro, Pleasanton, Fremont, Santa Clara. etc.
District Office
1057 MacArthur Blvd. Suite 206
San Leandro, CA 94577
Tel Phone: (510) 577-2310
Tel: (408) 286-0329
Fax: (510) 577-2308
Assembly Member Joan Buchanan
Alamo, Livermore, Contra Costa...
District Office
Second Monday of every month, 1pm - 4pm
Livermore City Hall
1052 S. Livermore Ave.
Livermore, CA
Tel: (925) 328-1515
Fax: (925) 328-1514
Senator Mark DeSaulnier - Livermore, Contra Costa...
District Offices
1350 Treat Blvd, Suite 240
Walnut Creek, CA 94597
Tel: (925) 942-6082      
420 W. 3rd Street
Antioch, CA 94509
Tel: (925) 754-1461
Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski
Fremont, Santa Clara, Pennisula, etc.
District Office
39510 Paseo Padre Parkway
Suite 280
Fremont, CA 94538
Tel: (510) 440-9030
Fax: (510) 440-9035 
If your State Senator or Assembly Member is not listed above, please contact us or look them up on the internet.
We will be open for our liquidation sale for the rest of the year, Saturdays and Sundays 12pm - 5pm and by appointment. We will also be open on Labor Day. We will be selling glasses of wine at 50% off and maybe a limited tasting list.
We appreciate your support. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Bill and Jill Smyth, Owners
Westover Winery & Palomares Winery
34329 Palomares Road
Castro Valley, CA 94552
(510) 537-3932
Reply by napagirl68, Sep 19, 2014.

yes, sad indeed.  I feel for the Smyths.


Yet, I am sensing a more malignant force here.....  where is our Foxall??

Reply by duncan 906, Sep 19, 2014.

Beurocracy gone mad;  nearly as crazy as the European Union 

Reply by EMark, Sep 19, 2014.

I am probably the outlier in the group, but I actually understand the state's position on this.  There are liability and workers' comp issues that are ignored when volunteers are engaged.  I do hope that one of our attorney friends checks in to flesh out or debunk my argument.  That would be helpful.

I'm sure that the law in this case is pretty black and white.  I have seen the argument that wineries have done this for many years.  The fact of the matter is that there is no exception in the law for wineries.  

I suppose you could argue that the punishment dealt to Westover Winery was harsh.  Yes, I agree it was.  So, I agree with item "B" in the above list of proposals to present to legislators.  Now, understand that these procedures are going increase the cost of enforcement.  No complaining about increased taxpayer cost.

When I first read item "A," I thought it was reasonable.  Then I became neutral.  Then I became opposed.  Based on what appears to be a relatively common practice in the industry, it might be reasonable to request an exemption.  The problem, however, is once you let one commercial industry through the door, every other industry will be following.  California legislators have enough responsibilities today.  I don't particularly want them receiving more attention (dare I say, lucre) from more lobbyists.  Also, I am sure that if such an exemption is granted, then future volunteers will have to sign a release (multiple pages, very fine print) before they can start.

I think item "C" is just silly.  Must the state of California then "reach out" to the entire populace to make sure they know all the laws?  If item "B" is implemented, then a cease and desist order is suffiicient in advising the industry. 

Reply by dmcker, Sep 19, 2014.

It is the responsibility of government to be clear and transparent. 'Reaching out' could be emails to business owners and industry organs. Plus clearly posted web pages. There are plenty of ways to be more responsive and responsible without trying to manufacture a rationale for more tax gouging.

This is bureaucracy run amok, clearly. Someone wants to make a name as an enforcer, and doesn't understand why they're supposed to be there in the first place.

Let's see you make your case for liability and worker's comp issues, Mark, rather than just throwing those labels out.

Reply by EMark, Sep 19, 2014.

DM, I'm not a lawyer.  To repeat, I hope that one of our attorney friends jumps in and provides some clarification.  I "threw those labels" because I saw them used in the WB discussion that OT referenced.  I have to say that I did not see them disputed over there, although it's been a few days since I revisited.

Regardless, here is my case.  The law is clear.  There are no exemptions for any commercial enterprise.  Now, I am very OK with the interested parties pursuing legislative change.  I don't think they have a shot at item "A."   That is just an observer's opinion.  I may be wrong.  I think item "B" is reasonable.  I think it will incur additional administrative and legal costs. However, the more I think about it, the more I think I may be wrong about that.  Regarding item "C," you have a point that clearly posted web pages are fairly easy and relatively inexpensive.  Is the state of California supposed to clearly post a web page for every law in the books?

Reply by dmcker, Sep 19, 2014.

Just because they're not disputed by whomever is in a thread at whatever time doesn't make them the gospel, even on WB.  ;-)

This could also evolve into an interesting discussion, and I'm hoping it does. But once again I'm out the door. Business and private life are crazy at moment, not all in a good way. All I can do right now is point towards an initiative or two that's been ongoing towards creating that essential clarity and accountability on every level of government.

If you're interested, here's some pertinent background reading from people I once worked with about the subject of government transparency and enhanced interactivity in the digital age. It just takes (only) a little bit of imagination and a bit more will to make lots of things more accessible nowadays to the people who are supposedly served by government (not vice versa):

Certainly it's still early days for this movement, even if progress may have been slower than anticipated at the end of last decade. And separately, this really has nothing to do with, to borrow a phrase from OT, the DB who is so aggressively trying to run family wineries into the ground that are quite harmlessly only doing what they and others have been doing for years. What's Big Al going to do with that chunk of his time if the local bureaucrats in Virginia act in the same way?

Reply by napagirl68, Sep 19, 2014.

Yeah, and what about hospital volunteers?  Or volunteers at a homeless shelter? or Pet rescue?  What about children volunteering at these places?  Going to read to the elderly at the nursing home?

And let's say you own your own little business.  Your employee calls in sick so your best buddy comes in to help out.  Illegal as well?  

Volunteers at wineries are currently happening in other areas of CA.  I can 100% vouch for that.  I have done it myself.  SOMEONE, or SOME GROUP is picking on the Livermore area (Castro Valley is kinda lumped in with the Livermore wineries).  As I stated in the OP, they have stopped them all from serving anything but crackers without a special license.  That is NOT happening in Santa Cruz or Monterey because I was just at several wineries in those areas, and they've never even heard of that and thought it was ridiculous.

Reply by EMark, Sep 19, 2014.

I'll go back to DM, tommorrow.  He's given me a reading assignment, and I am one glass of wine into the evening.

NG, there is an  exemption in the law for non-profit and public sector entities.  It  is possible that the examples that you gave qualify under one of those.  

I would be disappointed (but, based on my cynicsm, I might not be surprised) if there was uneven enforcement.  It may very well be that this is a "shot over the bow" to the entire industry.  Is it fair?  No.  That's a different issue, though.

Reply by EMark, Sep 22, 2014.

DM, I read most of the articles you linked (I did not read, or even scan, the 400 page tome.) and clicked on several of the links embedded in the articles.  If the point of the whole thng is that government entities should avail itself of emerging technologies, then I agree.  If the point is that technology can transform government, then I am hopeful but not convinced.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 22, 2014.

"If the point of the whole thng is that government entities should avail itself of emerging technologies, then I agree. If the point is that technology can transform government, then I am hopeful but not convinced."


Technology doesn't transform government, people do. But using certain technologies can make that easier.

The point was more that people should avail themselves of those technologies, and insist that government do so in responsible and suitably interactive ways. Your comment taken to its extreme could be an apologia for such excesses as the NSA has exemplified.

I've been involved in two major social revolutions affecting particularly the States but also elsewhere. First was the '60s into early '70s with all that social, cultural and political change that had the power to bring down two presidents. Not that that, diffuse as it was, could last forever, though it still lives in environmentalism, corporate social responsibility and other initiatives. Next was the Internet. Jury's still out on what's going to be ultimately possible through its opportunities. Our hopes back in the early '90s for all the positive change it could bring have greatly been subverted, though far from all of them, yet.

Reply by Really Big Al, Sep 22, 2014.

I've been doing the volunteer thing at the Wine in the Water Park events in June and September of this year.  I hope it's not illegal in Virginia to use volunteers for these fun events!

Reply by EMark, Sep 23, 2014.

DM, I'm really glad to see you back.  Your previous parting comment seemed ominous and made me a bit nervous.

I think we are basically on the same philosohical page.  Your last post clarified things very nicely for me.

Al, I'm pretty sure that the events that sparked this involved California law.  It is not clear to me that it affects companies in other states.  Also, if the organizing entity for your event is non-profit or governmental, it would be exempt.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 23, 2014.

" Your previous parting comment seemed ominous and made me a bit nervous."

Which one was that, Mark?

Reply by EMark, Sep 24, 2014.

 Business and private life are crazy at moment, not all in a good way. 

That sentence seemed to have some ominous potential.  If I misunderstood, then I'm, actually, glad.

Reply by dmcker, Sep 24, 2014.

Actually not all positive at moment. Sortable I'm sorting. Things beyond my power want to leave me helpless, but I despise that position so trying to leverage the extremely difficult at moment. Thus not on Snooth so much. Thanks for your concern!

Reply by AdrianSmith, Oct 9, 2014.

This is yet another one of those rediculous policies that the government sticks to when there are so many other things going on in the world

If its forced labor as 'volunteering', then yes, that's totally wrong. But if its the community coming together to help with what is very much a COMMUNITY activity and has been for centuries, then I see absolutely no harm in it...

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