Starting a Winery in North Carolina

This section covers the steps you must take to start a commercial winery in North Carolina.

You'll also need to consider contracts for purchasing grapes or custom crushing, trademarks, wine label approval, getting land valued as farm use for tax purposes, local health department compliance, distributor relationships and employer issues.

In this section: Starting a Commercial Winery | Register Your Winery | Wine Excise Tax | Winery Definitions | Winery Rules

Starting a Commercial Winery

Before Starting a Winery

Consider these restrictions: You may produce tax-exempt, unfortified wine for personal or family use of up to 200 gallons of wine per year per two-adult household or up to 100 gallons per one-adult household.


Refer to the following guides for detailed information about starting a winery:

Ensure your property is zoned appropriately by your county or by your city if within limits. North Carolina state law exempts bona fide farms from zoning in a county, but not necessarily in a city. County or city zoning authority determines the limits for a bona fide farm. A vineyard and winery operation should be considered agriculture in most counties. 

Have your wine production facility inspected by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB, formerly BATF) prior to obtaining a final permit. It's a good idea to begin paperwork for both the TTB and ABC six months to a year before your first planned commercial grape crush.

Steps to Permitting a Winery

Approval will likely be given in the order below. Call the appropriate offices immediately to receive forms and instructions at the same time.

Step 1

Contact the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for forms.

Darlene M. Brown
P. O. Box 25641, Fayetteville, NC 28314
Phone: (910) 878-1500, Fax: (910) 848-1541, Cell: (202) 997-7376

Wayne Milstead
Tax Audit Division
North Carolina TTB Field Office
1801 Stanley Road, Suite 210, Greensboro, NC 27407
Phone: (336) 547-0837, Fax: (336) 852-9306, Cell: (202) 997-7363

Product Compliance: (202) 927-8130/8140

Special Occupational Tax: (800) 937-8864

TTB National Revenue Center: (877) TTB-FAQS (882-3277)

Call for instructions and forms to obtain:

Step 2

Corporations, Limited Liability companies, and Limited Partnerships must register with the North Carolina Secretary of State at (919) 807-2000. You must determine type of ownership and obtain appropriate Articles of Corporation, operating agreement, etc. For more information on registering your business, visit the Start a Business section of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina's website.

Step 3

Obtain the following licenses:

  • City Wine License from your local city hall, if within city limits
  • County Wine License from your County Courthouse Tax Collector Division
  • State Wine Tax License from the North Carolina Department of Revenue: (919) 733-3641

Step 4

Contact the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABC) at (919) 779-0700 ext. 227 to obtain:

  • Winery-related ABC permits
  • Resident Unfortified Winery Permit ("on" or "off" premises)
  • A Resident Limited Winery Permit is not necessary; ABC will allow you to sample wines at your winery without this even though the legislation doesn't specify this
  • Winery Special Event Permit if you will hold tastings and sales by glass or bottle in approved public places that do not necessarily have "on-premise" permits
  • Label approval applications and Distribution Agreement Forms
  • Submit to the ABC:
    • Applications and supporting materials for applicable permits as listed above
    • Wine analysis for each label (each type wine, vintage additions or deletions, not changes)
    • Label approval form for each label (each type wine, vintage as above)
    • Distribution Agreement Filing Form (ask your attorney about franchise law in Article 12)
    • Vendor Representative Permit for each person physically selling or soliciting orders 

Step 5

Contact the North Carolina Department of Revenue at (919) 733-3641 for Revenue License and instructions for submitting monthly shipment reports (regardless of sales). For additional information, see Sales Tax Guide for Agricultural Products.

Step 6

See or order copies of the following:

Step 7

Register for UPC (Universal Product Code) barcodes. Wineries selling wine in retail stores will most likely need UPC barcodes for their wines. UPCs can be obtained through GS1 US, a nonprofit organization that regulates the codes. Wineries must register with GS1 US to receive your own identification number for your UPCs. An application fee and annual fee are required and vary depending on your business revenue and number of products. For more information, contact GS1 US at 937-435-3870 or info@gs1us.org.

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Register Your Winery

Be sure to register your winery (or planned winery) with the North Carolina Wine Office. Please fill out the Winery Form with contact information and details about your winery. Sign and return the completed Winery Form via fax to (919) 733-8582 or by mail to:

North Carolina Wine
4324 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699

If your winery is under construction, please still fill out the form and keep us updated on your progress and future opening date. Also, please let us know whenever any of your information changes. Once your Winery Form has been received, you will be registered to receive industry news from the North Carolina Wine & Grape Council.

Winery Guide and Website

Wineries must have winery and/or wine producer permits to be eligible for inclusion in our marketing materials. We produce and distribute 200,000 copies of the annual North Carolina Winery Guide and NCWine.org, the North Carolina wine consumer website. To be eligible for inclusion on the map and NCWine.org, your winery must meet the following qualifications:

  • Completed Winery Form
  • Obtain all winery and/or wine producer permits (TTB, ABC, etc.)
  • Use at least 5% North Carolina grapes, fruit or juice in your total wine production
  • Have a tasting room at your winery
  • Be open to the public
  • Once your winery meets all of the qualifications, your winery will be eligible for all marketing materials.

To Register Your Winery for Tourism Websites

To be listed on VisitNC.com and VisitNCWine.com, you must register your winery with your county’s tourism representative. To get listed, see the VisitNC.com Local Travel Bureaus page to find your county's representative. Be sure to provide hours, location, contact information and any events occurring at your winery.

Whenever you have any changes or additions to your winery information, be sure to update your county contact. All website updates, including event listings, are coordinated by your county representative.

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Wine Excise Tax

In North Carolina, wine excise tax is payable to the state’s Department of Revenue. Download the excise tax form or contact the Department of Revenue at (919) 733-3641 for more information.

North Carolina Wine Excise Tax:

Unfortified Wine (less than 17% alcohol): $0.2634 per liter
Fortified Wine (17% to 24% alcohol): $0.2934 per liter

Visit the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website for federal excise tax due dates.

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Winery Definitions

Unfortified Wine
Fermented naturally or with sugar and does not exceed 17% alcohol

Fortified Wine
Exceeds 17% alcohol and usually has brandy added to stop the fermentation

Content of Wine for Labeling Purpose (rules by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau): 

     American Wine
     May not be labeled a vintage 

     Varietal Wine
     75% made from that grape variety (except labrusca which must be at least 51%)

     North Carolina Wine
     75% North Carolina grapes

     AVA (American Viticultural Area designation)
     85% grapes from that AVA

     Vintage Wine
     95% grapes from that year

     Estate Bottled Wine
     100% grapes from winery-owned vineyards

Wholesaler = Distributor
Can be winery with exemption to receive wholesale permit

Retailer
Can be winery on winery premise

Importer
Receives product from outside of state or country

Exporter
Regulated at federal level only

Bottle Sizes

     Half Bottle: 0.375 liters, 0.5 bottles

     Bottle: 0.750 liters, 1 bottle

     Magnum: 1.5 liters, 2 bottles

     Double Magnum: 3 liters, 4 bottles

     Jeroboam: 5 liters, 7 bottles

     Imperial: 6 liters, 8 bottles

     Methuselah: 6 liters, 8 bottles

     Salmanazar: 9 liters, 12 bottles

     Balthazar: 12 liters, 16 bottles

     Nebuchadnezzar: 15 liters, 20 bottles

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Winery Rules

Dry Counties

A winery holding a North Carolina ABC winery permit may do the following: 

  • Build a winery and produce wine
  • Hold tastings
  • Sell wine in closed containers for consumption on or off premises (depending on permit)
  • Sell wine by the glass regardless of eating establishment status

A winery in a dry or wet county may ship wine to an individual of legal drinking age in a dry county for personal (not commercial) use.

A winery may hold up to three additional tasting and sales outlets separate at locations other than the winery, but these must be located in towns/counties where wine sales are permitted.

Winery Tastings

Tastings are regulated by ABC Rules T04:02S.0900. Tastings are legal when the retail permittee holds the appropriate on-premises unfortified winery permit; a special event permit may also be required if off the premises. The limited winery permit is not needed.

There is no tasting size restriction, but we recommend less than 1 ounce per taste to reduce liability.

Winery Retail Outlets

The primary retail outlet must be on the winery complex but not necessarily attached to the winery building. The winery complex must be engaged in some aspect of the wine manufacturing process (i.e., fermenting, aging, bottling or labeling). This may be in a dry or wet county.

A winery may now hold up to three additional tasting and sales outlets separate from the winery, but these must be located in towns/counties where wine sales are permitted.

Winery Private Labeling

A company wishing to sell wine that has been privately labeled must hold permits allowing retail wine sales. This is not possible in a dry county unless the company holds a winery or wine producer permit from ABC.

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