Thursday, February 2, 2012

Obama considers huge shakeup in alcohol law, eliminating TTB

US alcohol law could be on the verge of a huge shakeup. The Obama administration is considering eliminating the TTB, the agency currently in charge, and divvying up its duties between the IRS and the FDA.

The implications are huge, and the wine industry is afraid -- although it might be a good move for consumers. But I might be wrong, as the FDA doesn't do a good job of regulating food. And one wine industry spokesman described the move as a "power grab" by the FDA. The IRS would collect taxes; the FDA would be in charge of everything else.

A few things that might result: Ingredient listings on wine labels ("Honey, this wine has fish bladders in it.") Calorie counts. Wilder wine label designs with no-holds-barred graphic images (I'd give "Living Dead Red" a shot.)

And here's one I'd like to see: More accurate labeling of alcohol percentage.

The nix-the-TTB suggestion was in a memo last year from the Office of Management and Budget to the Treasury Department. Next week, when the new federal budget proposal is delivered, we'll see if the White House is planning to go forward.

To discuss what the move might mean, I called Michael Kaiser, director of communications for Wine America, which represents wineries in dealing with Congress.


"We are very much supportive in keeping the current regulatory aspect for the wine industry, and for spirits and beer," Kaiser said. "We worry about the FDA taking over, that it would be reactive. That is our concern, that it may be a power grab by the FDA to take over a topic they don't really know anything about. Our argument is that the TTB does know the industry better than any other agency does. We're afraid that the FDA might overreach."

Kaiser says the Wine Institute and Distilled Spirits Council are also deadset against the move. The TTB is the devil you know.

This is ironic, because the TTB has never been a huge hit with wineries before. Its label approval process, which every wine must go through before being sold, takes too long. Current reports have backups of more than a month, and rulings are seen as capricious. Wineries are pleased to give off-the-record examples of submitting the exact same label at different times and getting different results.

But Kaiser says wineries fear the FDA's system of fining afterward instead of denying approval beforehand. They like the certainty of knowing that once their label has been approved by the TTB, they can't really get in trouble for it.

As a consumer, I don't like label approval for one reason: wineries often say the alcohol percentage on their label is inaccurate because they don't want to change it every year. If the FDA were to scrap label approval and lower the tolerance to 0.5% as it is in Germany, and levy a fine or two on wineries that didn't follow the new guidelines, I'm sorry wine industry, but that would be great for consumers.

The issue is complicated, because some states also have their own label approval processes. But accurate alcohol percentage isn't being taken seriously now, and maybe the FDA would change that.

The wine industry also doesn't want to see calorie counts and portion sizes, the standardized food labels, on wine bottles.

"Aesthetically, that would take away a lot of the aesthetic appeal of a wine label," Kaiser said. "A lot of wine is sold on look. We think it would put a giant panel on the back and would infringe on the ability of the winery to advertise. Also from a winery perspective, they would have to test every wine they sell for calorie content. That's a huge expense for a small winery."

Even as a consumer advocate, I agree about this. People don't buy wine for the vitamins.

But let's get to a topic where the industry and consumers completely diverge: ingredient labeling.

I'd like to see it. Wineries don't want to do it. I won't stop drinking sparkling wine if it has "grapes, sugar, cultured yeast, ammonium phosphate, copper sulfate, etc., etc." (you'd be shocked) on the label. But it would level a playing field between small wineries trying to work as low-impact as possible and giant wineries that use economies of scale and chemical techniques to "fix" inferior grapes. It wouldn't put the latter out of business; people still buy plenty of Cheez Whiz when organic cheddar is available. But it would put an end to many false "green" claims.

The politics of this potential elimination of the TTB are fascinating, and ultimately why I don't think it will happen even if Obama wants it.

It's an election year. In this climate where government austerity is seen by many as a good thing, Obama could gain some chips by trying to eliminate a federal agency. The TTB is not as big as the Department of Education, but it's something.

However, the Republicans in the House seem dead-set on preventing him from achieving anything at all, and that will only intensify leading up to November. I think they'll reflexively oppose it.

But what a conflict it poses philosophically for Republicans. Deregulation is a party tenet -- but how would social conservatives react to restrictions being taken off of Demon Rum? I can already see the PAC-funded ads about how President Obama wants more drunk drivers on the road.

Kaiser says, "We believe the way that the system's set up now, it's not perfect obviously. But the TTB knows the issue better than the FDA does. The way the FDA works, we think there would be more onerous regulations on the wine industry. Maybe there would be skull and crossbones on wine labels."

Did I mention that I would buy Living Dead Red?

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52 comments:

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...

Blake,

Let's say I have made two wines.

One with 4g/liter TA (titrable acidiy almost all in the form of tartaric acidity).

The other wine has 9g/liter TA. Both naturally occuring.

Well, the 4g/liter is pretty low so I add 1g/liter and get it to 5g/liter.

On an ingredient label which of these should say, "Contains tartaric acidity"?

Adam Lee

W. Blake Gray said...

The first, Adam. Obviously. Nobody's saying "don't add tartaric acid." But why should you hide it?

W. Blake Gray said...

If it makes you feel better, think of all your competition from across the pond that would have to list something you'd almost never see on a California wine label: "Grapes, sugar ..."

Wayne Young said...

The "excuse" of wine labels inaccurately stating alcohol levels because the wineries dont want to bother changing the COLA every year is BS... The alcohol content is one of the things that you CAN change without having to fine for a new label approval, as long as the dimensions of the type are the same (there are minimum and maximum dimensions)... You can also change the vintage and the color of the label without having to re-file.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...

Blake,

I just wanted to make clear that what you are in favor of is an Additive List, not an ingredient list. That would be a big change for the TTB (should there still be one), as they have said that "Contains Sulfites" or even "Alcohol" is based on whether or not it exists....not whether or not it is added.

What about filtering or spinning cones? That adds nothing nor is it an ingredient?

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

PS -- Great blog in that it isn't something I had seen mentioned anywhere else.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...

Wayne,

You are correct from a Federal Label point of view, but not from the state label registration point of view, where an alcohol change is considered a material change in some states and requires re-registration.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: Thanks for noticing, I do think I got a national scoop on this one, which these days means for the next 15 minutes you can only read this story here.

Re additive vs. ingredient: Ah, but we'd be talking about the FDA, not the TTB. The sulfite thing was a separate hysteria -- I'm thinking about running a history of how that notice came to be -- and alcohol of course has freaked out our government for a long time. So while logically you could compare them to naturally occurring chemicals like tartaric acid, you can't really do so when it comes to wine label law.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...

Blake,

Not sure how the FDA rather than the TTB is applicable. Go grab a bottle of fruit juice of Gatorade and look for the listing of Velcorin. It isn't on there.....because, although it is added to kill yeast, it no longer exists in the wine, so it isn't listed. That's the FDA.

What were your thoughts about Filtering and Spinning Cone?

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Tom said...

If alcohol were folded into FDA, FDA would still have to enforce the existing labeling laws. The people who now do that at TTB would almost certainly be brought over to FDA to do it there. They'd have to deal with a new bureaucracy, but I don't imagine anything would change for a while. Any rulemaking that FDA decided to do on those labeling laws would take at least a year between proposal and public comment. FDA has enough going on at the moment that I imagine TTB-related rules would be a low priority.

As to ingredient labeling, it's already allowed by TTB, but wineries don't do it. FDA labeling law requires only actual ingredients on the label. So substances used as processing aides (like pig bladders) wouldn't be listed on the label anyway unless it's for potential allergen exposure.

As for alcohol content, wineries can change it without approval as long as the percentage doesn't cross the 14.1 barrier -- then it becomes a different tax class and they have to resubmit. The expense is with printing new labels, but any smart winery ought to have blanks without alcohol content on them so they can add that on each vintage.

WineAmerica said...

Actually, alcohol content can be changed above 14.1 as long as it is a positive increase. So if a wine is 14.1 one year and then 15.4 the next year no new label is required. It just cannot change tax class.

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: I don't see why filtering, spinning cones or other mechanical systems applied to wine should have to go on a label. Think of all the things that are done to meat that don't have to go on labels.

Besides, as a consumer, why should I care? Most people probably prefer filtered wine, and it's taking stuff out, not adding stuff in. "Unfined, unfiltered" already appears on labels as an enticement for the rest of us.

Same with alcohol reduction. I like alcohol reduction on a lot of levels. The reason the tax policy was written that way in the first place -- to dissuade producers of cheap wines from getting people too drunk on one or two glasses -- is still worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

In my first job in the wine biz a BATF inspector came to check our cellar records. My boss told handed me some keys and told me to put two mixed cases of wine in the truck of the car. It was the agents car and I was told it was "industry practice." I have never seen anything that has disproved my early impression that all the record keeping, reporting, lavel approvals, and rule making is a sham. If you want to cheat, you cheat on the record keeping and reporting, so why not regulate the industry like any other industry?

Contrary to popular belief, my experience is small wineries add more, fiddle more, and cheat more than large wineries,only because it is easier.

As a consumer I do want to know what ingredients were used, and the alcohol and residual sugar. Any winemaker knows withing a tenth of a percent what alcohol and sugar is in the wine, and it is a few minutes before ordering labels to make changes from one bottling to another.

Adding ingredients to the label is another matter and I wouldn't be surprised if there would be "poor record keeping" in that area, at least in the small operations.

Tom said...

Yes, but that's not crossing the 14.1 line, which is what I said above.

W. Blake Gray said...

Tom, WineAmerica: State laws -- and winery laziness in this area -- have more to do with inaccurate alcohol labeling than federal laws. It's just that the feds don't seem to be paying attention at all, and the public is saying louder and louder that we care.

Every time I've seen a story where somebody lab tests the wines, at least one comes in as higher than the already too broad tolerance should permit. But has a winery been fined for this, ever? I've never heard of it happening.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...

Blake,

Couple of things.....

You mention that the Feds aren't paying attention at all, but one thing that I haven't seen mentioned very much is that the TTB did do a check of wines in 2010 and the results showed that 96% of wine labels are legal. You can find that here: http://www.ttb.gov/sampling/10sampling-results.shtml

Only 81% of alcohol advertising, however, was found to be legal. So one would assume that should be where enforcement would be focused.

If, in fact, 96% of labels are accurate currently, how much of problem are we dealing with? How much more money in tax dollars should we choose to spend to enforce these laws?

And, Blake, as you mentioned, it is state laws, not federal laws that more often lead to costs in changing labels. Some states require new approvals with every new vintage. Others with material changes. Some require each label to be licensed for wholesale shipping, some for direct shipping. The net result is that we spent over $50,000 last year in compliance.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Anonymous said...

As winemaker for a small start-up ...I am too busy to write a thorough response...but, my biggest headache currently is consistent answers when dealing with the aforementioned agencies...add in my crazy state laws and getting frustrated that I may not ever be compliant! I have been told " don't ask permission, beg forgiveness." It really is not how I want to conduct business...

Man About Wine said...

The cost of adhering to and enforcing ingredient labels is enormous. Sorry Blake, let those who have religious type problems with trace elements go away, and with medical issues, cure allergies and we will all pave a path of gold to your door. Until then, don't saddle wine with allergy info that is again ridiculously expensive to create and to enforce. REgulations that you cannot enforce are worse than no regs, it created false security and creates scorn for the law.
As for better abv labeling, I an neutral on changing current standard but 1,000,000% in favor of forcing larger type face and readability.

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: The TTB tested whether alcohol was within "allowable limits." Now whether or not 96% is a good performance or not -- considering that every winemaker knows the exact alcohol percentage of every wine, I think it's not -- I'm also arguing that the "allowable limits" are too lax.

Did the TTB do anything about the 4% of bottles that weren't within "allowable limits"?

Re advertising: Point 1, I don't care anywhere near as much about it as what's on the label. I don't know how much honesty people expect from ads anyway, but we do expect labels to be accurate.

Point 2: Most of the non-compliant ads were missing mandatory information about the responsible advertiser. I don't know what that means, but I expect that it means Gallo doesn't announce that it makes Redwood Creek. I do care about this issue, but much more so regarding beer, where the big conglomerates are making beers that they pretend are artisanal.

Wine doesn't have conglomerates like beer does. And the big wine companies aren't advertising as small ones anyway. If someone is buying FishEye, will they be shocked to learn it's made by the Wine Group?

W. Blake Gray said...

Man About Wine: Larger typeface for alcohol percentage! Thank you, that's a great point, I should make it in a separate post.

The original intent of the tiny typeface must have been to prevent wineries from using high alcohol as a selling point. Some probably still would, but the market has changed and lower alcohol would now find an appreciative and growing niche that includes many people who now need reading glasses.

Katherine Cole said...

No more secrets. We'd like to know what, exactly, we are ingesting, thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

The TTB tests national brands which represent the bulk of the wine consumed in the country and which represent most of the wine taxes collected. By and large, the big producers and large corporations focus on accuracy and strict compliance because the fines can be significant. That's the good news.

On alcohol percentage a 14% alc wine can be compliant if the label says 12.5%.

But, even with the liberal compliance standards, if the TTB would do their compliance check on small production, luxury wines they would find a much larger percentage out of compliance, at least in alcohol reporting. This may aggravate some of us, but these wines are not important to the TTB from a standpoint of sales volume or amount of taxes collected.

W. Blake Gray said...

Anon: That's a very good point. So many California appellation wines from big wineries are listed at 13.5% alcohol because they have been reduced down to save money on taxes, and the companies doing that know there's likely to be a spotlight on them if they're wrong. Whereas somebody making 200 cases of Pinot that's unexpectedly over 16% alcohol might easily get away with listing 14.5%. I completely agree, small companies are more likely to fudge the labels for alcohol than large ones.

Ingredient listings, though, that's another topic entirely.

Napawineguy said...

I remember the wonderful days before the mandatory Baby-Killer warning was introduced. We actually had space on our back labels to describe the wines. And have these warnings done anything to affect one's consumption of vintage Cabernet sauvignon? I think not.

And in terms of ingredient labeling, if I have reduction problems, I can add CuSO4 in a controlled amount, measure it to ensure that it is within legal limits, or simply use the old fashioned method of employing brass fittings (brass contains copper)in order to deliver a low level of copper ions to the wine. Which method should be mentioned on a label? Contains brass? Give me a f---king break. Or should we use the "organic" method of pumping through a wad of copper mesh. Do we then say the wine contains brillo pads? There is a reason our tools have to have GRAS status. That is the consumer safeguard that protects health. Leave the winemaking to the winemakers and keep the d---n busybodies out of our business.

Anonymous said...

I say pick a hole. If He/they/whoever, want to fold alcohol into FDA, let them, but don't tax wine any differently than food. In this proposal IRS is not needed except for what they already collect in taxes for income etc... FDA is food and drugs, if wine is a food fine, but if it is not a food, keep ttb how it is. Currently wine is not a food, because it is not regulated by FDA. The worst solution is to say that wine is a food for regulation, but not a food for taxes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post a second comment so fast, but food should not have warning labels. If it is dangerous, it it a food? Maybe wine is a drug? Should we all have to get pharmaceutical grade facilities and equipment. If that were the case, what would happen to the natural wine movement. Anything that looks like it came from a chemical manufacturing plant cannot be natural. Also, the human testing required to regulate it as a drug would be prohibitive to small and medium wineries.

W. Blake Gray said...

Napawineguy: I know you mean well, but take "winemakers" out of your statement and replace it with "food producers" and imagine how consumers will perceive it.

We want to know what you've done, that's all. Currently we don't have a right to know. I'm not going to agree with you that that's a good thing.

Anon: I think wine is food. So do the French. All you need to shoot down the concept in Congress is to point out the second of these three sentences.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the confusion Blake, I also think it is a food. But, it is currently not taxed as a food, and for the extra taxes, wine (and beer), get some considerations(such as, having a label approval system that is proactive instead of reactive. I guess I should calm down before typing. As a winery we would love to pay less taxes, just as long as we are on equal footing as food producers. ps, thanks for the forum to talk to you about this.

Emily said...

When I listen to national political rhetoric about "creating jobs" and "growing small businesses" I sure wish I could have hired an assistant this month (created a job), and signed up some new accounts (grew revenue). Instead, I spend the entire month of January doing inanely detailed accounting and alcohol premises bookkeeping, excise tax reporting, sales tax reporting, and filing 1099s - including to every lawyer I need to help with all the regulations. Eliminate the TTB? Interesting idea. They're not so bad - it's the state protectionist legislation that hamper small business potential, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Wine is different from food in the way it is made. We start with grape juice, but what we end up with is different. We are adding yeast, maybe nutrients, enzymes, etc. but we do not end up with them in the final product. It is different from food in that what we want is the growth medium and the waste product of the yeast not what we originally put in as processing mateials. So ingredient labeling would actually be a misrepresentation of what is in the bottle. In food manufacturing generally what you put in to the product is in it when you are done. Next the product has absolutely no microbial hazard as much food does. So with these differences the food regulators are completely on foreign ground. They should not be allowed to stick their noses in to it at all. What little they have, as in the alcohol energy drinks which ran on for years, they finally ruled it as not GRAS, which is ridiculous as it is really a social issue. If the TTB had been handling it as the BATF did years ago, then it would have been settled many years earlier. We need to keep FDA and any state equivalents out of the equation.

W. Blake Gray said...

Emily: I agree with you, but the question is what to do about it.

I think it needs citizens in the affected states to complain, loudly and continuously.

It will be interesting to see how Pennsylvania's attempts to end its state-run system play out. That's being driven mostly by residents and consumers, and while Philly is politically liberal regarding wine, the state still has a strong temperance lobby.

What can wineries do? I wonder if it would mean anything for a group of prestigious vintners to announce they would know longer sell their wines to a certain state unless its alcohol regulations were simplified. That might bring attention to the issue. But they also might be ignored, and of course the rest of the industry would just jump in to fill the void.

Anon: But look at the Four Loko situation this way -- here was an extreme product that WAS able to be sold for years, and to my knowledge there have been no retroactive penalties for what wasn't considered illegal at the time. Whereas some unknown TTB bureaucrat can look at your carefully designed wine label and say, "I think it looks like a penis when you hold it at a 45 degree angle," and reject it.

Oz said...

At the end of the day, the amount of bureaucracy that surrounds wine in the United States is not going to change. Merging the TTB into the FDA would just create more systems and processes, and I doubt things like label processing would get any shorter.

What is needed is to reduce red tape that has accumulated due to the political sensibilities around alcohol. The is so much fear about allowing people access to alcohol, starting with the drinking age being 21, that one can only expect more paperwork and regulation to build up over time.

What the US needs is a fundamental rethink of how to make the alcohol industry a thriving success. Let's get rid of some sacred cows, and excessive label monitoring is one!

John M. Kelly said...

Please folks, go read food ingredient labeling laws. "Ingredients" are only those things that end up in the finished, packaged product above some statutory threshold. The devil is in this detail. It is industry - not consumers - who will define what these levels are.

If they want to make small wineries disappear, big wineries will go along with proposals that set low levels for a myriad of potential "ingredients" so that the cost of testing becomes onerous for the small producer. Once levels are set, everyone HAS to test for the specified "ingredients" - even producers who use no SO2 have to test every wine to make sure the level is less than 10ppm to avoid having to put "contains sulfites" on the label.

There are testing exceptions for products that are produced according to a formula. Companies whose products are made with "this much from drum X, this much from drum Y, this much from drum Z" can simply put this formula on the label. I'm not sure how many people agitating for wine ingredient labeling would be happy if more wines were produced this way. Be careful what you wish for.

RE: the repetition that "winemakers know the exact alcohol percentage" - this is a patent fallacy. One: measurement error - give me a case of wine; I will test half by NIR and half by GC on freshly serviced and calibrated machines. I will get six slightly different numbers within each pool of samples. The difference between the two pools will be even greater, especially if the wine has residual sugar. These differences might only amount to a tenth of a percent, plus or minus, but the fact gives lie to the assertion that we "exactly know" the ABV number.

Two: process error - I have worked at wineries where the lead time between label production and bottling is as much as 6 months. Alcohol levels change in the barrel with time. Blend decisions are sometimes made at the last minute before bottling to produce the best wine, so that what goes into the bottle may not at all be what was tested 6 months earlier to get the label alcohol. Of course there may be producers out there who are lazy, or stupid, or gaming the system to save a buck. But it is some fraction of the 4% referenced above. There seems to be an implication here that producers in general are deliberately fudging alcohol levels. It's insulting.

That said, I once worked for a winery that labeled everything as “Table Wine” – by definition, under 14% ABV. Pretty much everyone in production knew that some of the wines being bottled were over 14% but the labels were already printed. Then they got a BATF audit. Yes, they were fined, and yes, they ended up putting the alcohol on the label after.

RE: readability for ABV on the label, well, there are standards. The TTB stopped checking mandatory text for size, spacing, typeface, and contrast/readability a couple of years ago; they issued a circular saying labels are still required to comply, and that they can require non-compliant labels to be pulled form shelves and will fine offenders. They stopped checking because they are short funds, and they aren’t likely to police the shelves for the same reason.
I have been seeing a lot of non-compliant labels lately. Heads-up, colleagues: this is just stupid. All it will take is for a few consumers to write a few more letters to a few influential Congresspeople and we are likely to see a requirement that we put ABV on a separate big white label area with a 1.5mm black border in black 10mm sans-serif type. Make your alcohol statements readable for god’s sake.

W. Blake Gray said...

John: Very interesting comments. I hadn't considered the possibility of testing requirements for ingredients. But I wouldn't bet on big wineries wanting that either; eliminating small wineries in competition is probably much less important to them than reducing their own costs.

I'm sorry to insult you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry again. I don't know how many times I'll have to apologize because I do believe some producers deliberately fudge the alcohol level. Many, many producers do it up to the legal tolerance -- is every Shafer wine really 14.9% alcohol? But yes, I'm sorry, I think there are producers who flat out lie because they think 14.5 looks better than 16.1.

Oz: You're right, the mistaken idea by many government types that wine is somehow sinful instead of healthy is at the root of all of this. At every opportunity we should tell people to read this study that heavy drinkers live longer than non drinker.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2017200,00.html

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicolas said...

Blake,

I say yes to additives on labels - why not? let the market decide. Consumers are smart and they deserve the information.

Yes on "no more TTB" - trust wineries on applying truthful labels - that is what they do in Europe and what any other consumer good does. Create an agency (like FDA) to enforce the law - turn that page of prohibition

Pete said...

Are wine people that politically disconnected? Beer media have been talking about this TTB/IRS/FDA thing for weeks.

http://jackcurtin.com/ldo/?p=6581

@gosandrew said...

Um, Gallo Pinot-gate?

Dapz said...

I have a bottle of BV 1974. The back label reads:

" The Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier claret grape of the world. It is responsible for the renowned chateau-bottled wines of Bordeaux, such as those of Medoc and Saint-Emilion. This grape, grown on select vineyards in Napa Valley produces altogether superior vintages, the best of which are great wines anywhere under the sun. They have a deep ruby color, a fine bouquet and the incomparable fruity flavor of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, easy to recognize and appreciate. Private Reserve is given extra years of bottle aging in the Beaulieu cellars"

Pretty neat, no? I am all for accuracy on the Alcohol levels but do not care much to know all the ingredients contained in the wine I'm drinking. Call me a romantic but I think the product would lose much of its charm.

W. Blake Gray said...

Dapz: I'm sorry to disagree, but I can look up Cabernet Sauvignon on wikipedia. I'd rather know what's in the bottle.

I also don't see why a wine bottle couldn't have both -- unless the ingredients list is really long, which means I want to see it even more.

Randall Grahm has started listing the ingredients in his wines, and he's as into label design as anybody else.

jo6pac said...

WOW good news indeed, the fda has never met a large corp. that it didn't change the rules for. This is more like a sneak attack on all medium to small wineries instead. There's not many if any start ups in the pill world and look what big ag received during the great debate organic veggie labeling war. They real organic framers were left out of the process.
They’ll drown the little ones with even more paper work, in fact you might have to have more in the office than in the area of actual wine making. Sorry the other system might be F*&^%$ up but the new will Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

Dapz: Funny, that 1974 BV label would be rejected today. The words "Medoc", "Saint-Emilion" and "Bordeaux" would all raise flags.

I find the TTB process onerous, but I would be scared to think what the FDA might come up with. The devil I know.....

Those of us who export to Canada are already going to be dealing with ingredient labeling very soon. I would guess many will take the approach I am, which is to have a boiler-plate strip label to apply that could cover anything there is a remote chance I might use (Casein, Isinglass, Gelatin, etc) so I don't need to mess around with each new wine individually. We'll see how Canadian consumers react.

Bring the +/- abv tolerance down to 0.5%? Don't see the alcohol issue as a big one personally, but fine with me, if you do away with the silly 14% line in the sand. That is a paperwork nightmare, frankly.

JB said...

What does our gov't do well? There are hundreds of go'vt agencies that can go away.

Anonymous said...

To clarify two posts above, the Canadian government is requiring allergen labeling, which is not quite the same as ingredient labeling. Most of the specific allergens have nothing to do with wine, but a few do relate to various fining agents.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...

Blake,

Actually, sometimes Randall lists ingredients (he lists "indigenous yeast" for example), other times he lists additions which remain in the wine (such as tartaric which he only lists if he adds it, not if it exists like he does with the yeasts) and other times he lists ingredients which are added but do not remain in the wine (such as bentonite, which is added but isn't in the bottled wine).

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Dapz said...

Blake,
My concern is that chemical names names like ammonium phosphate and copper sulfate (as harmless as they may be) may cause fear on the consumer to buy wine, specially considering how sensitive everybody is to anything chemical on their food.
I, for one, would not be able to discern which chemical is harmful and which is not. Consider the sulfite discussion, we all know that sulfites are necessary; but people "reject" it. I'm afraid that if we added more chemicals to the label, it would be that times 10.
On the other hand i see your concern that we all have the right to know what we are ingesting; it is a fair one.
The public is much more educated today than they were in 1974 and most people know what cab sauvignon is but I would find interesting to know how much new oak is on the Chard they are selling, if it went through ML...or what method they used to produce this rose...or how sweet is this Riesling. I think there is a ton of useful info that could be printed in the back label; but maybe you are right and we could do both.

Anon: That is funny, i had not thought about that.

Two Shepherds said...

"the wine industry is afraid "

really? everyone I know is cheering. Ever deal with the TTB and their ludicrous b.s. before?

Simon said...

I have been trying to find a resource on this. Where did you get this information? I work for a winery and would be interested in learning more about this.

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W. Blake Gray said...

Simon: That would be telling! Sorry, can't reveal my original source. But you should call the Wine Institute if you're a member; they've probably got more info on it than I do.

In any case the reason I had to run it this week is because the federal budget proposal is due next week. We'll either see this proposal in it, in which case all the newspapers will have it (now that I've told them to look for it), or the proposal will have been tabled, at least for now. So I wouldn't worry too much about getting more info until after the budget comes out.

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) said...

Just to say that, as a small startup winemaker, I'm very much in favour of listing ingredients on the wine label. I think that consumers have a right to know what's in the product they're thinking of buying, and I don't see why wine should be different from any other food or beverage product.

mgclinard said...

The main reason that the big wineries don't want FDA invloved is that it will expose the amount of residual sugar in their mass-produced-consumer friendly products. I analyzed 30 of the top selling wines in the US several years ago, and as I suspected the ones from the big three wineries groups were consistently the highest in residual sugar..so I see the manadatory ingredient listing as a good thing for wineries and importers who are NOT adding sugar, and promoting bone-dry wines.

Notary Public Preston said...

Just to say that, as a small startup winemaker, I'm very much in favour of listing ingredients on the wine label. I think that consumers have a right to know what's in the product they're thinking of buying, and I don't see why wine should be different from any other food or beverage product.

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