Beer or wine? Why not both?

Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry was instrumental in changing the law — Assembly Bill 788 — that prohibited wineries and breweries located in the same spot from allowing their customers to bring each other’s products to each other’s patios.
Corinne Martinez of Berryessa Gap Vineyards (left) and Laurie Nicolini of Berryessa Brewing Co. toast the change in the state law that allows their respective customers to mix and mingle on the adjoining patios to their businesses. Courtesy photo

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Want beer? Sit on the Berryessa Brewing Co. patio. Want wine? Sit on the Berryessa Gap Vineyards patio. Want both? Now we have a problem. Or, “had.”

Thanks to efforts by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, the seemingly arbitrary and definitely frustrating law prohibiting adjoining businesses that sell different types of alcohol produced under their respective roofs to be consumed on each other’s patio, even when the patios are also adjoining, has been amended. Beer and wine lovers visiting Berryessa Gap or Berryessa Brewing no longer have to flip a coin for one patio or the other, or split up so each can have their beverage of choice.

Aguiar-Curry, who is also the chair of the California Wine Committee, says she took on Assembly Bill 788 in October of last year in an effort to support small businesses and also because one slip-up could be very costly. A beer on the wine side or a glass of wine on the beer side could result in a $10,000 fine as well as a 30-day license suspension for both businesses, which she says could be “devastating” financially.

“That seemed ludicrous,” says Aguiar-Curry, adding that AB788 was one of the first she worked on as a new Assembly member. She adds that there was no objection from legislators — the bill received unanimous support.

Assembly Bill 788 amends section 25607 of the Business and Professions Code, relating to alcoholic beverages, also known as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. This act prohibited a licensee from having on its premises any alcoholic beverage other than the one produced by that business. The law did not apply to businesses that served alcohol but did not produce it.

Corinne Martinez, co-owner of Berryessa Gap Vineyards along with her brother, Dan Martinez, and partner Santiago Moreno, agrees that a violation of the old law could have been very costly. Not only was there a $10,000 fine, there was a 30-day license suspension for each infraction. So, for example, a table of beer or wine drinkers sitting in the wrong patio could cumulatively suspend the businesses’ licenses for months, which translates into lost income.

Thankfullly, Martinez notes, neither Berryessa Gap Vineyards or Berryessa Brewing Co. were ever penalized, mainly because there was a constant effort on both sides of the patios to keep an eye on it. She says employees of both businesses had to  constantly police their customers and watch for anyone bending the rule, and to make matters worse, their customers weren’t always understanding about this.

“A lot of people grumbled about it and thought it was a dumb rule,” says Martinez. “And, we agreed. But there was nothing we could do about it.”

Laurie Nicolini, who co-owns Berryessa Brewing Co. with her husband and brewer, Chris Miller, as well as partners Dan Martinez and Santiago Moreno, agrees that the business owners and employees were stuck in the middle, and says the brewery even got negative Yelp comments, which can be the kiss of death for attracting younger customers.

“(Our customers) thought it was so ridiculous,” says Nicolini of the law, noting that “there was a lot of confusion. People thought it was a decision of the businesses.”

Martinez says Aguiar-Curry, who was the mayor of Winters before moving on to the California State Assembly, was familiar with how the old law affected both businesses and how unpopular it was with their customers and sponsored AB 788, and attracted other lawmakers to get on board and support this effort. 

“She spearheaded it. She was the lead sponsor,” says Martinez. “She experienced (the situation) herself, she’d been out here, and she knew what happens at the local level as mayor.”

The new bill, which Martinez calls the “Tied House Regulation,” authorized licensed winegrowers and small beer manufacturers that are immediately adjacent to each other to share a common licensed area where customers can consume their products in either place. A visit out to the brewery and/or winery on any Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday proves that customers appreciate this change in the law, as evidenced by beer and wine consumption on both patios, which are no longer separated by a cord and warning signs.

Prior to this, “we literally had this line” where customers could not cross over, says Martinez. “When the line had to be there, it created tension. We had to go around being the police, because we didn’t want to be fined and then get shut down for 30 days.”

That line between the two patios used to have picnic tables on top of it, and beer drinkers had to stay on one side of the table and wine drinkers on the other. No more. The whole L-shaped area is wide open now, and wine drinkers are free to go listen to live music on the brewery patio, and beer drinkers are free to visit in the much quieter and calmer winery patio.

“We want to give customers a great experience,” says Martinez, even when “one wants beer and one wants wine.”

Nicolini says she welcomes the change, and her customers do too.

“I’m glad people can co-mingle on the patio,” says Nicolini.

To accommodate all these happy beer and wine lovers, the Berryessa Gap patio has been significantly reconfigured. The bocce court is gone, and more tables have been added, as well as a soothing water fountain in the corner. The whole area is opened up and quite relaxing and spacious. Over on the brewery side, quarters are a bit tighter, but this seems to be an attraction for those who want to visit, have conversations, hear live music and play with the patio games.

While customers from both businesses can co-mingle on the patio, they are still prohibited from bringing beer into the winery tasting room or wine into the brewery serving room. But all in all, the new law, which actually went into effect on Jan. 1, is popular with all concerned.

“Overall, it will make people happier,” says Martinez. “They can choose to have beer or wine in the same place.

All this new shared open space will likely translate into an already hot destination spot becoming that much more popular. What does that ultimately mean? More parking, says Martinez. Customers will be delighted to know that plans are already in the works to add additional parking spaces to accommodate them — whatever they prefer to drink.

The address for both Berryessa Gap Vineyards winery and Berryessa Brewing Co. is 27260 Highway 128 in rural Winters. The winery tasting room is open Thursday and Friday, 12-8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 12-6 p.m. The brewery is open on the same days, but opens at 3 p.m. and ends at the same times.

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