Strike that! Reverse it! This blog post has been edited to correct a misstatement that was listed related specifically to the use of a vintage or varietal on a wine label for a wine blend made from out of state grapes. See below areas in bold where corrections have been made to the original post. 

This post is a follow up to my post from 3 weeks ago. That was written to explain the latest rather confusing TTB proposed rule change related to how wines can be labeled that have a certificate of exemption from label approval. (what I referred to as a CEFLA) To clarify again a winery will file a CEFLA for a label for a wine that will only be sold in the state that it is bottled in. Current TTB regulations have a significant loophole related to wine labels covered by CEFLAs in that they are not beholden to the percentage requirements for (in part) vintage, variety, and appellation as all wine labels that hold a COLA (certificate of label approval) are.

Understandably many industry groups have brought this loophole to the attention of the TTB which has led to this proposed regulation update.

What will this then mean for all US wineries that have as part of their regular winemaking practices been purchasing of out of state grapes, juice or bulk wine?

For those who have been purchasing out of state grapes or juice it will mean definite changes to what they can list on the labels for the wines they become. The use of an AVA will no longer be an option. This is because the current regulation for use of an AVA on a wine label would apply to both COLAs and CEFLAs. Specifically the part of the AVA regulation that states “the wine must have been fully finished within the state within which the labeled viticultural area is located.” It is those two words, “fully finished” in this statement that mean goodbye to the use of a variety, a vintage, a state or county appellation or an AVA for wineries that have been purchasing out of state grapes or juice. The TTB defines fully finished to mean that the wine must have been fully fermented inside the state where those grapes came from.

Here’s a scenario of what this looks like. Winery A in Texas purchases some Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon grapes, has them trucked to their site, then crushes, ferments, stores, blends and bottles the resulting wine but when designing their label for it (even if they only will sell the wine out of their tasting room at their Texas site) if they list cabernet sauvignon on that label which then per TTB regs automatically requires them to list an appellation they would only be allowed to list Napa County or California.   The label for the wine that those out of state grapes become would only qualify to list Red wine. No variety, no vintage and no type of appellation. 

On the other hand these pending labeling regulation updates will not affect those same wineries who regularly purchase bulk wines from outside their own state. Because bulk wine is just that, wine which in the eyes of the TTB means that it is “fully finished”. For those wines the label would be able to list an AVA, provided at least 85% of the wine blend is properly documented as coming from that AVA. By properly documented wineries need to make sure that the bill of lading (BOL) document which arrives with the actual shipment of that wine lists the specific AVA percentages on it. If a winery plans to list Napa Valley on the label for a wine blend that contains purchased bulk wine then the BOL document must also list Napa Valley on it. In other words if the BOL for a delivery of bulk wine listed “100% Napa County” as the appellation details then the label would NOT qualify to list Napa Valley. Winery staff who are the primary recordkeepers for these types of required records have to be the watchdogs in these scenarios. In particular they need to also be aware of the blend statistics that would have been provided by the wine brokerage that the purchase transaction took place through. As part of promoting bulk wine available on the market wine brokerage firms will provide the full blend breakdown details (vintage, variety, appellation) when sending out samples to wineries considering a purchase. These same blend breakdown details then would also be listed on the BOL document sent with the truck that delivers the wine. If for some reason they do NOT match, the receiving winery can call the sending winery and request an amended BOL, as that is what the sales transaction was based on as well as having the direct affect on the wine label options for the purchasing winery.

Here’s a scenario of what the out of state bulk wine purchase looks like. Winery A in Texas purchases some Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wine from the bulk market, coming from another US  winery outside of Texas. The delivery of that wine to their Texas site shows up with the bill of lading document which lists “100% cabernet sauvignon, 100% Napa Valley, 100% 2014”. Winery A then applies for a CEFLA for that wine as they will only sell it in their onsite tasting room and on the label they would be able to list all 3 of the above blend details. One further label clarification here is that they would NOT be able to list “produced and bottled by Winery A” on the label for this wine. They could instead list either “cellared and bottled by” or “vinted and bottled by” or simply “bottled by”.

Full explanations of all these wine label requirements and minimum percentages are available in my book, The Inside Story of a Wine Label.

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