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Homemade wines barred from fundraisers

  • Volunteer fire captain Ken Van Oeveren, left and volunteer fire chief Larry Russell of the Dry Creek-Lokoya Volunteer Fire Department in Napa Valley's Dry Creek take down a large banner Friday that advertised their annual homemade wine auction event. The state ABC shut down after 30 years. (KENT PORTER)

For three decades, the firefighters of the Dry Creek-Lokoya Volunteer Fire Department have relied on the annual Home Winemakers Classic fundraiser to pay for upkeep on their firehouse.

Until this year.

For the first time ever, California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officials said this month that they would not approve a one-day permit for the event, set for today at the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, if it involved tastings or auctions of home-produced wines.

Since the homemade wine is the centerpiece of the annual event, the fire company simply canceled it, foregoing the $16,000 it would have added to the bottom line for the small, rural fire company in the western hills of Napa County.

Volunteer Chief Larry Russell said he decided to pull the plug after ABC suggested that the only way to serve the home-made stuff was in a private party or gathering of friends.

“It's no longer even an event other than friends getting together,” Russell said. “This is really talking about the Prohibition era.”

State alcohol officials deny they are singling out firefighters or making any change to their policy. Spokesman John Carr said the department had not been aware previously of the home-made component.

“When the department was made aware that home-made wine would be for sale, we worked with event organizers and explained that state law does not allow selling homemade wine,” he said.

Winemakers who supported the event expressed shock at the cancellation, saying they do not charge for glasses of the wine, but instead just pour donated tastes.

“It's not hurting anyone, it's a good cause, and we've been doing it for 30 years with permits,” said Napa City Council member Juliana Inman, a member of the Leap of Faith winemaking club that has been pouring at the Dry Creek fundraiser and similar events for decades. “How could something like this suddenly be ruled illegal?”

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