Andrew Chalk is with me at Drinklocalwine.com. Below is his first report from the conference that took place on Saturday. It’s an interesting topic that needs to be simplified not only for consumers but for “professionals” in the wine business. Let’s rumble.
The web site www.DrinkLocalWine.org exhorts consumers to drink local wine. This weekend the organization held its first annual conference and it happened to be here in Dallas with an emphasis on Texas wine.
However, it can be hard to recognize local wine. If you are at the liquor store and pick up a bottle of wine with the name of a Texas winery on the label the connection with Texas may be almost non-existent. It may actually come from grapes that were not grown in Texas. It may be fermented outside Texas. It may be aged outside Texas. In fact it may even have been labeled outside Texas. In other words, a completely finished wine is imported into Texas and the label says the name of a Texas winery. But none of the viticulture or viniculture had anything to do with Texas. How is the consumer to know where the grapes came from and where the wine was made?
Maybe the small print on the back label saying ‘Vinted and Bottled by…” is an assurance that the wine was at least made locally even if the fruit came from elsewhere. Not so fast. The weasel phrase “Vinted and Bottled by…” means that only 10% of the wine in the bottle need come from the winery. The rest can be blended in from anywhere.
What about “Made and Bottled by…”. Isn’t that the phrase that assures local production? No. It means the same as “Vinted and Bottled by…”.
How About “Produced and Bottled by…”? That is closer to what we want but only 75% of the wine must be made by the winery and none of the grapes need come from the winery.
Surely if the label on the front of the bottle says “Texas Wine” that at least assures us that the underlying fruit comes Texas. Again, things are not what they seem. Up to 25% of the grapes on a wine labeled “Texas” can come from outside Texas. That kind of alien percentage is more than enough to totally dominate the character of a wine. Other wine growing areas are much stricter: an American Viticultural Area (AVA) specifies a minimum of 85% and Oregon 95% (since 2007).
One phrase which will guarantee that the winery grew all the grapes in the specified location and made the wine on its property is “Estate Bottled”, sometimes written as “grown, produced and bottled by…”.
What if the label does not name the origin of the grapes but does say “For sale in Texas only..”. Doesn’t that mean it is a Texas grown and made wine? Absolutely not. This is the cruelest misdirection of all. Under Federal Law a wine sold across state lines must list the viticultural area of origin. However, if a wine is sold only in one state the law grants a waiver of this labeling requirement. In the case of Texas, as long as the phrase “For sale in Texas only” appears on the label, the grapes can be from anywhere. While this exemption was created to provide regulatory relief to small wineries it is almost invariably used to allow the use of out-of-state juice by an in state winemaker. As such it confuses the consumer and should be modified to still require reporting of the origins of the grapes.
With such an unnecessarily complicated and contradictory set of laws regarding grape origin and wine making labeling it is no wonder even the experts get confused. At this weekend’s conference one of the panelists praised a Texas wine that won a medal when, in point of fact, most of the fruit in that wine originated in California.
This truth-in-labeling issue is acute for the Texas wine industry. If consumers feel that Texas wineries are just labelers of other state’s wine, they will eschew Texas wine for “the real thing”. This will penalize the many Texas wineries who use exclusively Texas grapes and label them clearly. At the present time the trend is for more and more out-of-state fruit to be used. The industry needs to act soon to place the origin of the grapes on the front label of all wines produced in Texas so that consumers have confidence in the provenance of the product. It should also consider following the example of wineries such as Inwood Estate Winery which has created a completely separate label for its out-of-state wines.