You may have heard of the term “cola” used frequently in the wine industry around wine labels. Perhaps you thought, what does soda have anything to do with wine? Do soda drinkers also tend to be wine enthusiasts? Is is a descriptor term in some way? None of these are the case. The acronym COLA stands for certificate of label approval. All wines, (actually all alcoholic beverages to be sold in the US) are required to have one of these. These approvals are given by the same federal agency that regulates the wine industry, the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. (they of course get an acronym too, thank goodness, as the TTB for short.)

A winery generally submits a set of wine labels to the TTB for label approval when they are coming up on bottling the wine. The approval process used to take weeks, as the most common route was through the mail. However in 2002 the TTB took another step into the age of technology when it activated the online COLAs system. This process allows wineries to submit their label approvals online, and just one of the benefits of that is that the turnaround time can be as fast as 4 days. A huge benefit as the label approval step in the bottling process can often get forgotten by wineries. There have been many cases where the labels were actually printed before a label approval was granted, which meant another revised printing had to be done at the expense of the winery. No happy campers when this happens!

Also coinciding with the development of their COLAs online system the TTB now has their Public COLA Registry. This can be accessed by anyone and is used to look up label approvals for reference purposes. If you look up approved labels at this site you will come across the two versions of label approvals. Many are still the “old-fashioned” paper form that would have been submitted to the TTB by mail, and then you will see the other electronic style which is distinctly different. It is an interesting experience to view the myriad of examples of labels by using this site. It does not contain all of their label approvals in entirety, but does currently go back up to 20 years ago so plenty of examples to view.

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