Challenges of starting a basement winery

by Homebrewing

Starting a winery or brewery in the United States can be quite a challenge.  The starting winemaker cannot produce wine for sale on any premises in the United States unless the facility is licensed and bonded.  If you own a vineyard, you most likely have land to build a separate winery or can bond an existing structure.  For home winemakers trying to break into the business, this is not an option.  You can not make wine for sale in your kitchen.  Most amateur winemakers making the jump to professional winemaker will need to find a location to manufacture their wine.

Can you make alcohol at home?

Home winemakers usually want to slowly expand their production starting with very low production runs.  This is how they started their hobby.  The number one issue holding back the wannabe winemakers is cost.  If you rent a place to make your wine, it can be 12 to 18 months before you can sell your first bottle of wine.  It might be much longer before you see any real sales.  You will be paying at least a year or more for a lease with no income.  Renting a facility forces you to produce much more wine at the onset, and thus requiring more initial capital.

Step one for a basement brewery is organizing the mess

If you can swing it, your house might be the cheapest option for starting out.  Many small wineries and breweries started out this way.  In fact, New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado started out in the owner’s basement.   New Belgium had several failed bonding and licensing applications trying to get their basement bonded.  They now make Fat Tire beer and are one of the largest craft brewers in the country.  Concetta Cellars in Castle Rock, Colorado also started their winery in the basement.  There are many other success stories, so if you have the right basement or garage this is a good way to go.  Here are a few things to consider however.

Watch your zoning

There might be zoning requirements for your home.  Some counties will not allow you to bond any area of your home, unless your home is zoned mixed-use.  Other zoning requirements may force you to move your operations to an industrial zoned area.  There is no consistent rule to determine if you can make wine in your garage or basement.  Your first step should be to check with your local authorities.  The local authorities have the final say over the state and federal authorities.  Many people have gone through the trouble getting federal approval, only to find out that their local government will not allow residential wineries.  If you live in a neighborhood with an HOA, they might not allow businesses.  You will need to check with them as well.

Other Requirements

If your city or county will allow you to bond an area of your home, there usually are other requirements.  The space must be used exclusively for your winery.  You can’t be using your basement or garage for personal use if it is bonded as a winery.  You might need to provide an entrance to the basement from the outside.  Good drainage and a three compartment sink per federal guidelines are also required by the TTB.

It might also not be practical to use your basement.  If you do not have a walk-out basement in your house, you might want to consider if carrying 8 tons of grapes up and down your stairs is really a good idea.  Without a walk-out basement, you should consider bonding your garage as a temporary fermentation area.  Pumping the pressed wine into your basement will be much easier than carrying grapes down and the skins back out.

Wine ratchet press

These are easy for one batch, but will it work for several tons of grapes? And where will you dispose of the skins?

If you can overcome these challenges, starting a winery or brewery at home can be a great way to start out.  Overcoming this challenge will help ease some of the pressure on your starting finances.  Once you determine that you can start in your basement, you can focus on creating a solid business plan.  Planning and research will be your best friends early on, and will help your winery last during the early lean years.

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!