Wineries in New York complained Friday that the federal government is hurting their business by taking too long to approve new labels for wine bottles.
Sen. Charles Schumer headed to two wineries in New York's Finger Lakes on Friday to press the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to clear what he called a bureaucratic logjam.
"This wine labeling backlog has far too many New York wineries over a barrel," Schumer, a Democrat, said during a stop at Giancarelli Brothers Winery in Weedsport, west of Syracuse.
Dozens of New York's 300-plus wineries have been grumbling of late that getting approval for new labels is sometimes taking months instead of days, said Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, a trade group.
"Label approvals have slowed a great deal because of staff cutbacks" at the trade bureau, Trezise said. "It has generally been a responsive agency for the wine industry, but delays have gotten longer and that does affect the distribution and cash flow for the wineries."
Calls to the agency in Washington D.C. were not immediately returned Friday.
Wineries cannot sell a product without a certificate of label approval. Getting a label approved by mail typically took a week and an online system pared the process to a day or two. Since last fall, however, approval of online applications has frequently slowed to at least a month and paper applications take two to three months, wine operators say.
"Often, when wineries finally do receive feedback, it is with a rejected label and the necessary corrections," Schumer said. "And, at that point, labels must be resubmitted and the (approval) process must begin again."
In a letter to the bureau's administrator, John Manfreda, Schumer urged the agency to work with the wine industry to find ways to streamline the application process.
"Every day that a label is delayed costs the winery in delayed or lost sales and thus reduces the amount of federal excise tax collected on those wine sales," Schumer wrote.