In July of 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill calling for a special picnic license for wineries. This picnic law would grant a picnic license allowing wineries to designate a picnic area and sell visitors a full glass of wine or bottles of wine to be consumed on the premise. I was excited about this news because I was hoping that it would increase the number of picnic wineries in the Napa Valley. As it is, the Napa Valley compared to all other wine regions in California has the lowest percentage of wineries with picnic facilities. By my count, I only find 20 Napa wineries conveniently located that have a picnic area. Secondly, I thought the new law would bring about some innovative tasting ideas. Why not be able to order one single glass of one wine, instead of sampling an array of one-ounce portions of wines? Or, purchase two glasses of 3 oz each and do a side-by-side comparison. The law went into effect on January 1 and now, well into the year, I have yet to see any effects of this so-called picnic license.
I called three wineries in the Napa Valley to see if they have made changes related to this law. The folks at the first two tasting rooms knew nothing of the picnic law and indicated no changes have been made in their tasting or picnic polices. The third told us that they were looking into the law and thinking of different possibilities for the future. She also indicated that there is just not that much “buzz” among the wineries about the picnic license. An official at the Napa Vintners Association explained that the main reason there have been little or no changes is because wineries to do not want the liability of serving visitors more than the one ounce pour or selling them a full bottle of wine. But at the moment, I can buy a full bottle of wine and open it for a picnic lunch at any winery that has a picnic area. We have done that many times at picnic wineries and even borrowed their wine glasses. What we’d prefer to do is buy one glass of wine to sip over lunch rather than a full bottle of wine that we will not finish. As far as liability, I see little difference in what wineries have to contend with now. Most of the people that come into a tasting room are interested in discovering wines and not getting inebriated. Those who want to imbibe too much will find a way. And what about those winery events? I have seen many a guest over served at these functions.
On the Internet, I was able to find some information on the picnic law, posted by a law firm. I learned that local jurisdiction has the final say in what wineries can do with the new picnic license. The local agency supersedes the picnic law. I have been told previously that in the Napa Valley, the County requires a special modification of a winery’s permit to establish a picnic area at a winery. Perhaps this is the reason why so few wineries in the Napa Valley have a picnic facility. The County is weary of picnic facilities with the potential of huge events taking place. But what is wrong with a small amount of tables and chairs set up round the winery so visitors can enjoy a leisurely lunch and relax in the beauty of the Napa Valley? Why not have a menu of choices for tasting wines and be able to have those wines with lunch. If the picnic law has not brought about any changes in the way wineries serve wine or offer picnic opportunities, why was the law needed in the first place?