Warning: Using Club Member Volunteers for Winery work may cost you $$$$ and your business

clinic times;”>By Raven West

Westover Wines

Westover Wines

prescription times;”>Westover Vineyards Castro Valley was forced to close after being hit with more than $100, try 000 in fines by the Department of Industrial Relations.

Last July, state investigators visited Westover Vineyards and immediately put owner Bill Smythe on notice that he was in violation of California’s minimum-wage law and wage-reporting requirements. He was then slapped with a demand to pay fines to the state to the tune of $115,550 plus back wages to his “volunteers”.


Willaim Westover Smyth, Winemaker

According to the California Labor Code, it is illegal for a for-profit business to use volunteers for labor, including holding club member events like grape stomping or wine bottling.

The fine came as a shock to Smyth who, like many other small wineries in the region, had been holding volunteer events without any problem for a number of years and was unaware that he was violating the law.

Several of the local wineries in Ventura County hold these events as a fun way for their club members to enjoy a hands-on experience in the wine making/bottling process. They usually provide lunch, or give a free bottle of wine to the workers, but these items of compensation are not considered “wages” under the law.

As a result of the impending fines, Bill and his wife Jill are now forced to close their business. Their liquidation sale will continue until they officially shut their doors on December 24th, 2014.

Read related story at Mercury News.

Raven West

Raven West


Raven West is a free-lance writer and published author who has lived in Ventura County for more than twenty years. She has an extensive knowledge of local wineries in Ventura County and will be covering special events which take place at the tasting rooms throughout the year. Read her column Heard It On the Grapevine   in the Lifestyle section.

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