According to WVTF, Wine Spectator Magazine named Virginia a top world destination for wine lovers to visit, along with places like France, Germany, Spain, and New Zealand so it’s no wonder wineries are popping up all over Virginia. In Northern Virginia, in particular, wineries and breweries have gained popularity because of their access to interstates and tourism traffic. Agritourism combines 2 of Virginia’s top 3 industries: agriculture (#1) and tourism (#3) providing a boon to rural economies and helping preserve small to mid-size farms.
If you’re considering starting a vineyard, winery, or brewery you probably already know you have to comply with Virginia alcohol laws and regulations. What many aspiring entrepreneurs forget is that it’s also worthwhile to learn about the “non-alcoholic” side of winery and brewery ownership. An experienced business attorney can take the guesswork out of the agritourism business law and protect your winery from common risks that nearly all businesses face.
Read on to learn 7 things lawyers can do to help your agribusiness’s growth and sustainability.
1. Attorneys Can Help You Incorporate & Reduce Personal Risks.
If you want your winery or brewery to be taken seriously, you’ll need to form a business entity. When handled properly, incorporation can protect your personal assets from business losses and reduce your tax liabilities. Deciding which corporate structure will work best for your business is a balancing act that requires the insight of an experienced attorney. Trying to use legal forms without the advice of an attorney could lead to your winery paying more than its fair share in taxes, or worse, the loss of your business and personal assets for simple legal mistakes.
2. Attorneys Can Help You Obtain Business Loans to Grow Your Winery.
If you have never applied for a business loan, it’s worth noting that business lending is quite different from the personal loan process. Lenders want to protect their investment, so they often require business owners to submit substantial paperwork and sign numerous guarantees before any money is distributed. In addition to many lenders requiring a business plan, incorporation, and other business documentation, they may apply multiple contingencies throughout the life of your loan. Such as a requirement that you maintain your corporate entity, have a life insurance policy, or submit annual financial data.
An agribusiness attorney can help you prepare the right documentation to improve your chances of obtaining a business loan and ensure you’re not signing predatory loan agreements that set you up for failure.
3. Attorneys Can Help You Acquire Land & Construct Facilities.
Land acquisition and usage is always a hot legal topic for Virginia wineries. Zoning issues and private legal restrictions, such as covenants, may limit or prohibit some uses of your property.
Trying to navigate all of the different rules, regulations, and procedures involved with land use regulations is complicated and time-consuming. The time to consult an attorney is before you acquire land.
4. Attorneys Can Help You Draft Contracts that Protect Your Business Interests.
Every business needs contracts. At some point, you will deal with suppliers, vendors, employees, and other professionals. Each relationship that your business relies on will need to be governed by some form of an agreement so that you can take action if the other party doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
The world of contract law is highly specialized within every industry. Even the most experienced contract attorneys may not know the nuances of the agritourism industry. Working with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of agritourism will set your business up for success and mitigate risks.
5. Attorneys Can Help You Hire & Retain Good Employees.
If you want your business to grow and succeed, at some point you will need to hire employees. Finding, hiring, training, and retaining good employees is one of the most important (and daunting) aspects of business ownership. Even business owners with past management experience often do not know the best ways to secure trustworthy employees. What’s worse is that employees are one of the biggest sources of business lawsuits in the United States.
Federal and State governments regulate what can be asked during interviews, how employees are paid and taxed, how employees are to be treated, and when employees can be fired. An attorney can help ensure you’re in compliance with all employment laws and regulations. They can also help create employee agreements that protect your business from adverse actions of employees, like opening a competing business, sharing your trade secrets, or recruiting co-workers for a competitor.
6. Attorneys Can Help Your Protect Your Name, Ideas, Reputation, and Designs.
Your business’s name, ideas, and reputation are its lifeblood. If a competitor steals your ideas or an employee shares your proprietary information, your business could lose its competitive advantage. This is why intangible assets, like intellectual property (IP), are some of the most valuable components of a newly formed business.
You will want to ensure your unique ideas maintain their value by taking advantage of intellectual property laws that protect trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Even your marketing campaigns can be protected property. A seasoned attorney can help you maximize the value of your business by protecting your ideas. As well as help you avoid fines and lawsuits by ensuring you are not infringing on other businesses ’ IP rights.
7. Attorneys Can Help You Avoid Lawsuits.
Many business owners believe they don’t need lawyers until a problem arises. You may have caught yourself thinking, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” Unfortunately, this is one of the most expensive mistakes business owners make. All businesses face the risk of lawsuits and agri-business is no exception. If you’re selling alcohol on your property, you face even greater risks.
The good news is, experienced business attorneys can help you protect your business from litigation and limit your liabilities, proactively. They can help ensure you have the right protections in place, legally, financially, and contractually to protect your business from lawsuits and regulatory penalties.
Our experienced team of attorneys at VF&N are able to assist you with all aspects of your agritourism business, from startup to growth and beyond. If you’re interested in starting a winery or brewery in Virginia, or would like to protect your existing agribusiness, contact us for personalized advice designed to meet your unique goals.
By: Martin Crim, VF&N Attorney