subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Industry braces for rules on label disclosure of wine additives

15 comments

Tom Wark, at Fermentation, alerted us yesterday to the British newpaper Telegraph’s article on “unauthentic ingredients” in wine in the form of oak chips, but this was only the visible tip of a gigantic iceberg roiling the waters in Great Britain over the use of additives, and about to spill over bigtime to our shores.

In what looks like a testing of the waters, the defense of the use of wine additives a few days ago by the CEO of Britain’s largest wine industry lobbying group, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, signaled that the alcoholic beverage industry is taking seriously threats to require labels to disclose all the ingredients in the bottle, and is fighting back.

The CEO of the 320-member group of producers, wholesalers, bottlers, retailers and others, Jeremy Beadles, told Channel 4’s Dispatches (a kind of Sixty Minutes program) that “The winemaking process is governed by strict regulations designed to ensure products meet stringent health and safety standards.” Dispatches aired a segment highly critical of additives, of which the European Union allows at least 50, in the form of flavorings, preservatives, enzymes, fining agents and so on. The Dispatches program provoked a storm of controversy throughout England, with bloggers like Jamie Goode yesterday slamming Channel 4 for producing “a desperately poor programme,” while consumers praised it for alerting them to facts previously unknown. Check out this commentary from Jane Moore, a columnist for The Sun newspaper, who’s in favor of complete disclosure on labels. She wrote, “One producer told us it [disclosure] would be tantamount to ‘commercial suicide,’ presumably because it might put the customer off and result in lower sales.”

On this side of the pond, Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm famously came out for full label disclosure last December. The federal Tax and Trade Bureau issued a proposal of rulemaking (Notice No. 62, updated by No. 64) that would require disclosure of all potential “allergens,” which seems to be simply a synonym for additives. Wine Institute, California’s leading association of producers, strongly opposes such a new law, as evidenced by this remarkable 34-page letter to TTB from Wine Institute’s President, Robert P. Koch.

At this point, Wine Institute’s Gladys Horiuchi says she has no idea when or if TTB will issue their final ruling. But TTB spokesman Art Resnick says there will be one, sooner or later. The holdup: the Food and Drug Administration is holding hearings on its Food Allergen Awareness program, “and we [TTB] need to be consistent with what FDA does,” Resnick asserts. TTB, in other words, is dotting its “i”s and crossing its “t”s so they can build up a scientifically airtight case for mandatory disclosure. With heavyweights like TTB and Wine Institute squaring off, the food allergy lobby mobilizing, and bloggers just waiting to stir things up, this smackdown is going to be interesting.

  1. Well, it’s about time. The wine industry has for a long time, possibly always, egregiously abused its lack of regulation. I am sorry to see it come to this, but maybe with full disclosure one will be able to identify an unadulterated wine, if there are any left. Maybe one should have to also list any processing like R.O., distillation, or micro-ox. Finally, perhaps, honest winemakers who respect their vineyards, their craft, their customers, tradition, and themselves, will have the upper hand over the boutique “lifestyle” wineries of the nouveau riche and corporate manufacturers of alcoholic pop, both of who are propped up by reviewers who know little more about wine than whether or not they like it. Not that I’m bitter about the wine business, or anything like that.

  2. Percent sugar might be nice for a diabetic to be able to monitor. It would be very interesting to see a wine label that says, contains egg (egg white fining) or fish (isinglass fining). Hmmm, how many calories are in my glass of wine?

  3. Brad, even if the winery put sugar content on the label, you wouldn’t really know what it was because the Feds allow them so much leeway. As for eggs, fish, etc., I guess if I was allergic to those I’d find out wines that didn’t trigger a reaction and stick with them. As for calories, according to the USDA, a 5 oz. glass of dry red has 106, and a 5 oz. white has 100. Sweet wines will be higher.

  4. Steve:

    “Wine, the new diet drink”? If one glass is so “light”, then four won’t hurt. And don’t forget the cumulative effect of all that reveratrol…. ;)

  5. Aw, crap, make that: “resveratrol”….

  6. Morton Leslie says:

    Ingredient labeling and particularly tightened requirements on alcohol and residual sugar labeling would be good for the industry. If it is done correctly.

    The key element from my standpoint is that the label should tell you what is in the wine. If you add water, or sugar, or concentrate it stays in the wine and must be recorded. If you dissolve some ferm aid before fermentation, well some of that remains in solution and that is an ingredient. If you add SO2, it or its products remain. If you add yeast, or a fining agent it may or may not remain in the wine. Listing yeast or bentonite as an ingredient when, in fact, the wine has been through a membrane filter and none remains is mis-labeling.

    This issue will be a bigger problem for larger wineries than smaller ones. In larger wineries the will always be a potential whistle blower. You have to have good record keeping systems and triple check each label.

    For many small wineries where a water or a yeast addition or a fining can be conducted by the winemaker… what goes on in the cellar….stays in the cellar.

  7. Hoooo, that will be fun…

    About those folks that do alcohol (or VA) removal, and about coloring agent, and about velcorine “death star”….

    This is really a complicated topic. Should be a fun ride.

  8. I see no problem whatsoever with disclosing all parts of the wine making process to the consumer. However, I’m pretty sure from a marketing perspective the label is the worst place for such disclosure.

    Better to have some context and explanation along with news of our water additions and enzyme use, so folks can understand the reasons for your interventions as a winemaker. Which means using the back label text in new, more informative ways.

    Best to be proactive and blog about it or print the whole recipe up on your data sheets.

  9. Josh, something tells me if wineries have to list all ingredients, the labels are gonna have to get a lot bigger! But I also revert back to what Morton Leslie so wisely noted, above: “what goes on in the cellar….stays in the cellar.”

  10. Hi Steve,
    You had to do this to me? What a Padora’s box!!! Where should we start? Is anyone allergic to bird poop (wasn’t sure if the “s” word would make it through), earwigs, spiders, snakes, mice, mold…….? All that can go into wine as well as egg whites, milk, yeast, enzymes….. Do I put love, affection, laughter, pain, sorrow and nighmares on the label too? We are going to have to skip the 750ml bottles and go with Jerabaums. If we are breeding a race of humans who are that sensitive to “allergens”, maybe we should stick to water!
    And, thanks Nico! You brought up the dirty little secret about Velcorin: a poison (that breaks down to CO2, water and methanol) which is being added to many wines out there. Under the proposed legislation, a winery would not have to disclose the addition of this toxic substance because it does not remain the same once it has reacted. It is considered a sterilant: kills all sorts of things growing in wine. SO2, blamed on all sorts of bad things, is only rated an irritant but would have to be disclosed on the label because some of the parent material remains in the wine; hence the reason for shelf life. Never mind that methanol is a highly dangerous substance and that the synergy between methanol and ethanol was not really considered by the feds when they argreed to allow Velcorin’s use, after it had been outlawed, again.
    And, BTW, not all the “big-boys” use it but many “boutique” wineries do. According to one MAJOR producer I spoke with, who had the lab equipment needed to test for methanol, they only used it once because by the time they got the dosing machine (Velcorin requires a special dosing machine) dialed in and the residual methanol finally under legal limit, they had already run 2000 cases of wine; which they had to dump down the drain. HHHHMMMM.

  11. Morton Leslie says:

    I am so old I had the experience working for a small boutique winery where we used DEPC the forerunner of DMPC. We had a bottle of it and an eye dropper. One drop per bottle, or sometimes two, occasionally three towards the end of the day. After the corker we gave the bottles a little shake. We had no protection from the fumes which were considered toxic. (Maybe that’s my problem.)

    Later at a large winery my first job in the lab was buying a gas chromatograph, setting up the procedures for analysis, and analyzing for DEPC which was added to everything whether it needed it or not. Later this was abandoned because of the advent of membrane filtration.

    The switch to DMPC came because of the possibility of DEPC reacting with ammonium ions to form ethyl carbamate. Considering the small amount of DMPC added and the fact that the research showed the potential of methanol production to be well within the range of what is produced normally by yeast and within the FDA regs on “what is safe” this is probably not a real health concern. If you used pectic enzymes as well as DMPC you might be pushing it, especially if it were distilled. Poire anyone?

    Whatever, I think it’s use should be on the label. There is really no reason to add it given the alternatives. Of course, if you want to put “unfiltered” on your label to imply that your are “non-interventional” to get big points from Parker, such disclosure might rub you the wrong way.

  12. The real news is what is hidden. Full disclosure of all the ingredients would create more real news than we have seen in the wine industry since Paul Draper, Dick Graff, Robert Mondavi and others proposed making wine with traditional methods. By revealing ingredients we could plainly see that large beverage companies are adding ingredients to wines, which mask the very regional aroma and taste attributes that define wines. By example, “mega-colorants” are routinely added to (most) Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Italian varietal wines priced below the luxury price breaks. Wine writers would soon learn what we winemakers know; which is “mega-colorants” have a common taste, which in essence masks regional and seasonal color and flavor in an effort to improve quality. I could name no less than a dozen more ingredients that are currently added to wines, which have a corrosive affect on the consumers’ ability to detect terroir in California wines. Ingredient labeling would create the real news.

  13. The real news is what is hidden. Full disclosure of all the ingredients would create more real news than we have seen in the wine industry since Paul Draper, Dick Graff, Robert Mondavi and others proposed making wine with traditional methods. By revealing ingredients we could plainly see that large beverage companies are adding ingredients to wines, which mask the very regional aroma and taste attributes that define wines. By example, “mega-colorants” are routinely added to (most) Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Italian varietal wines priced below the luxury price breaks. Wine writers would soon learn what we winemakers know; which is “mega-colorants” have a common taste, which in essence masks regional and seasonal color and flavor in an effort to improve quality. I could name no less than a dozen more ingredients that are currently added to wines, which have a corrosive affect on the consumers’ ability to detect terroir in California wines. Ingredient labeling would create the real news.

  14. Leo, I would disagree that it’s only “large beverage companies” who do things to wine. I refer you to Morton Leslie’s above comment, about “what goes on in the cellar….stays in the cellar.”

  15. Neil Barham says:

    Not true the labels have no need to be any bigger just check out Bonny Doon wines, they list all ingredients on the back label.

Leave a Reply

*

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives