Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Wine producers aren't allowed to use "100% grapes" on label
Producers aren't required to list everything that's in it, which is why so many people wrongly fixate on sulfites when they get headaches. Sulfites are just a few of the 59 approved additives in the EU, but they're the only one required to be listed on US labels.
Although wine is food, wine gets a pass on ingredient labeling from the US government, as it does in most of the world. You can add diammonium phosphate and copper sulfate and a bunch of other chemicals, but you don't have to tell anyone. I'm not going to bitch about that here; chemists have told me that the alcoholic fermentation process is a big dividing line and you might not ingest what was added beforehand. OK, stipulated.
However, if a company makes its wines from 100% grapes, without even adding commercial yeast, it should be able to brag about it, right?
Not in the USA, not anymore.
Gideon Beinstock, proprietor of the natural winery Clos Saron in the Sierra Foothills, said he had a label rejected because it said "100% grapes."
"The TTB said it would make other wines look bad," Beinstock said.
That's awful. The TTB, the federal agency in charge of approving wine labels, has had to deal with layoffs because of the financial crisis, and wineries report that not only are label approvals coming more slowly than usual, but the individual bureaucrat's decisions are becoming more unpredictable.
But there's no excuse for that. And Beinstock's not alone.
Tony Coturri, one of the most purist of all winemakers, said, "We have submitted the same label 300 times that said it had no preservatives. And then they rejected it."
That's also awful. I think preservatives -- sulfites -- are crucial to good winemaking, and the great majority of winemakers agree with me. Yet Coturri should have the right to say what he's doing.
Monsanto has been pushing for this sort of law for years. When a federal court of appeals last year overturned an Ohio law preventing dairies from announcing that they didn't use bovine growth hormone, it seemed like the sort of ruling that might set a precedent. It's hardly a great one: it would be better if rBGH-using dairies were required to list it on the label. But to tell dairies that DON'T use it that they can't say so conflicts with the 1st Amendment.
Look at me with the rose-white-and-blue glasses! Nobody gave the TTB the memo.
Would somebody mind alerting the Obama administration? TTB label approval is such a tiny corner of the massive federal government. I believe this is only happening because nobody in the adminstration knows about it.
Stifling the right of wineries to announce what they are and aren't putting in wine isn't just un-Democratic; it's un-American.