TTB ducks more precise ABV rules in new labeling law
Ridge famously became the first California winery to commit to truth-in-labeling last month, with CEO/winemaker Paul Draper arguing that his winery would henceforth “include an ingredient list on its labels” (although not of their quantities; there’s not enough room). Since Ridge wines contain few ingredients–grapes and yeasts, of course; malolactic bacteria, as needed; sometimes calcium carbonate (to reduce excessive acidity) or tartaric acids (to increase it), SO2 (for preservation), occasionally egg whites (for fining)–the information will take up hardly any space on the label. But what will wineries do who use up to the 60 “materials authorized for treatment of wine and juice” permitted by the Tax and Trade Bureau of the federal government?
These include everything from acacia gum Arabic (a stabilizer), thiamine hydrochloride (a yeast nutrient), silica gel (a clarifier) to the infamous “Mega-Purple” that’s been such a bee in the bonnet of bloggers (why they should be so upset at the thought of a $10 Lodi Merlot being purpled is beyond me).
Anyhow, Ridge anticipated what the Feds just announced: “Truthful, accurate, and specific voluntary statements about nutrient content, including calorie and carbohydrate content, in the labeling and advertising of wines, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.” Before the Libertarians freak out over yet another imposition from nanny government, relax: the new rule is voluntary. (But warning to wineries: Don’t lie. TTB, with Papal sternness, intones: “We will take appropriate action with regard to labeling or advertising representations that mislead the consumer about the nutritional value or health effects of alcohol beverages.” In other words, no “This Zinfandel will improve your sex life.”
The oddest and saddest thing about TTB’s ruling is that it had the opportunity to make wineries be clearer and more truthful about alcohol-by-volume numbers on the label, but sidestepped that opportunity and instead allowed the current giant loopholes (talk about misleading!) to continue. They did do something useful in prohibiting wineries from listing alcohol content in fluid ounces instead of by volume (properly recognizing that consumers “might be confused by a statement of alcohol in fluid ounces without some context in which to evaluate this information.”). But wineries can choose to list alcohol by fluid ounces in addition to listing it by volume, although why they would want to is another mystery.
Wineries argue that being held to strict ABV labeling would be just too hard, but it’s not clear to me why, or why it would be too expensive for them. Consumers are (properly) concerned with knowing the alcohol level of the wines they drink (especially with this talk about lowering the national blood alcohol level yet again), and while I’ve never been one to criticize a wine simply because it’s high in alcohol (which really has no bearing on its quality), I do think people have a right to know how much alcohol they’re ingesting.
One of these days the TTB is going to make wineries print the exact alcohol level on the label, so why not just do it now and get it over with?