Bloggers are following the Washington wineries for sale, or those that have just closed their doors like Yellow Hawk, but there is a disturbing number of 'fading' wineries. I personally know of four - maybe five. What, you ask, is a fading winery? It is a winery that is neither for sale, nor closing, nor in bankruptcy.
Fading wineries won't crush this fall, or if they do, they will crush a minimum, maybe just whites in order to have a full line of wines while the reds sell down. They can use the cold weather to cancel grape contracts. (How convenient is that?) They will continue to be in business until the inventory is depleted. Then they will simply close their doors. "Hey, wasn't there a winery here last year?" "Yeah, we stopped, but we didn't buy any wine."
Why would a winery fade? Simple. The federal government requires a bond on all wine stored at the facility. Federal taxes have to be paid when the wine is withdrawn from bond. State taxes need to be paid when it is sold, also. Winery owners simply do not want a 4000 case personal wine cellar. Only 200 cases per year may be withdrawn for personal use tax free.
Another reason for fading is the fact than many wineries have little value other than used equipment and maybe a building. They have no distributor relations, are self-distributed to a few retail accounts (you know, the usual upper end restaurants and wine shops), and the owner is tired of playing winery.
Many of the first generation winemakers are getting ready (or would like to get ready) to retire. Wineries require a lot of work. The hours are long, the rewards few, and the money is scant. Sure it is a good living for an owner/winemaker/tasting room worker, but there are other things they would like to do other than clean up crushed grapes at 1:00 AM.
One big winery is just picking up its toys and moving back to Oregon. Their vineyard is up for sale. One mega corporation is trying to get out of the wine business altogether focusing their energy on their forte, spirits.
Winery wannabes don't have any money, so they plan to be garagistes until Paul Gregutt makes them rock stars - or maybe they will just fade away at some future time if Parker doesn't discover them. 500 cases of ultra-premium, hand-crafted, award-winning wine can be stored in your garage pretty easily if you park your car outside.
What with all the wineries for sale, the sanest exit strategy might just be to fade away. Here today, gone tomorrow.