I’ve read a few articles recently on “How To Read a Wine label”. Informative, yes, but there is more to a wine label than a clever name, pretty picture and some tasting notes. A wine label is a winemaker’s promise to you, the consumer. Do any of us really care about the alcohol warning statement and are there still people out there that really need to be told that wine contains sulfites?
Well, yes according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau, we do need to be told. The TTB, (as we reverently refer to them) does, of course hunt down and prosecute bad people playing with dirty money, but the department actually has a much higher calling.
It is the department’s mission to, “Collect the taxes on alcohol, tobacco, firearms and ammunition; protect the consumer by ensuring the integrity of alcohol products; and prevent unfair and unlawful market activity for alcohol and tobacco products.”
For most of us, we pick up a wine, check out its super cool, edgy graphics and its clever name. Sometimes we read the flowery descriptors, maybe note its alcohol content. But we are “LOCALISTS”! We are taking that extra step to sustain an important local industry, so we look for an ARIZONA wine! There it is. We think to ourselves, “It says Arizona somewhere on the label. Yes. This is an Arizona wine.”
Folks, Arizona wine comes from ARIZONA grapes. How are you assured of that wine’s origin?
Enter the TTB. Wine producers are required to maintain a very costly bond, copiously document production and movement of wine, pay a lot of tax and one more thing. Wine producers are required to obtain a Certificate of Label Approval, (COLA). No COLA, No sale. The TTB will allow exemptions, but they still want to know what that label says before it gets stuck on a bottle. Again, that label is a winemaker’s promise and yes he or she will be fined heavily for breaking it.
The Federal Government can write great laws, but the real work comes in trying to enforce them. WinesandVines.com reports that there are 7, 762 bonded wineries in the United States and the TTB has limited budgets for agents, just like every other Federal agency. They do a great job helping those wineries that are trying to follow the rules stay the course, but checking up on every winery is a challenge.
State governments can write their own rules. Oregon and California have some of the most rigid labeling laws in the country, all written to protect their wine industries and their respective American Viticultural Areas, (AVA). There are those in Arizona seeking to protect our state’s reputation as well. In July, HB 2317 was passed. It was sponsored by one of Arizona’s agricultural icons, Representative Brenda Barton. The bill mirrors Federal requirements for wine labeling. This is the first step in what will be the opportunity for the state to write rules that it can then assign to an agency, (Department of Liquor License & Control) to enforce.
These rules and how they will be enforced will assure the integrity of Arizona wine, so you the consumer can trust in this precious and sustainable industry. If you have any questions about a wine’s legitimacy, ttb.gov is just a click away.