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Diageo moving towards “content information” on wine labels



No one much noticed last Friday’s report in the Wall Street Journal that Diageo is going to start listing calorie counts “and other content information” on its spirits, including Johnnie Walker Scotch and Smirnoff vodka, “in what it said was a first for the industry.”

That nugget was buried on page B5 of the newspaper, on the same page as the weather. But it’s big news, with implications for the entire industry.

The article didn’t say anything about Diageo’s wine brands, which include Chalone, Sterling, Blossom Hill and Rosenblum. So I went to the company’s website and clicked on the “News & Media” link, which led to a March 19 press release from the company that strongly suggests that the disclosure will include wine. There is this phrase: Diageo believes that consumer information for alcohol is best provided per typical serve, so that consumers can understand the alcohol and nutrition content of serves of different drinks, which vary in size across beer, wine and spirits.” Moreover, at the bottom of the press release, in a “Notes to Editors,” as an “example,” the company showed a label of a Blossom Hill wine. The press release also hints that Diageo will go much further in their disclosures than simply listing the calorie content; they vowed also to reveal “nutrition information…,” although they didn’t say what specific nutrition information they will publish.

It’s unclear to me whether “nutrition information” is the same as “ingredient information,” although it wouldn’t seem so. The latter has been a contentious issue nipping at the edges of the wine industry for the last few years. Ridge Vineyards has already begun ingredient labeling, listing such things as calcium carbonate, SO2 and indigenous yeasts on the back label. Besides, as Harvey Steiman points out in Wine Spectator, ingredient labeling for wine is tricky. It’s complicated, a lot harder than ingredient labeling for, say, a can of soup. And there also are financial considerations for smaller wineries. Sometimes I think that this consumer demand to know about every micro-molecule that enters their bodies in every sort of food and drink borders on the obsessive.

Still, that’s politics. Diageo’s move is significant because, as one of the nation’s largest wine companies, they clearly believe they’re reading the handwriting on the wall, and want to get out in front of what may become a mandated trend. So be it; what will be, will be. Personally, I’m against ingredient labeling or content labeling on the actual wine bottle. That sort of thing could easily be done on a website. Everybody’s got a computer or smart device these days, so it would not be an imposition on consumers to click on a link or two. Wine labels are lovely works of art: producers go to great lengths to make them graphically appealing. To clutter them up with ingredients and nutritional data would be ugly.

  1. Perhaps Diageo will follow up with a greater commitment to improved viticultural and oenological practices.

  2. This might prove that i’m a big nerd, but I think this is fascinating. The content I would be most interested to see would be things like Brix at harvest and final pH, although I doubt this is what Diageo has in mind. Another question about ingredient lists: how do you handle things like fining agents which precipitate out of solution, so they are technically not ingredients, although they are added to the wine?

  3. Bob Henry says:

    “It’s unclear to me whether ‘nutrition information’ is the same as ‘ingredient information,’ although it wouldn’t seem so.”

    An open question to me is: do vegans, with an aversion to eating eggs, drink wine?

    How would they know that bentonite — not egg whites — was used to clarify the wine under consideration?

    I have commented before about wineries not using their labels more effectively to describe their product and “tell their story.”

    Promoting that a wine abstains from egg white fining could be an effective differentiation technique for incremental market share gains from an underserved target audience (vegans), without alienating other consumers who are indifferent to this production process.


  4. With nutrition labeling comes ingredient labeling. There will be ingredient labeling eventually, consumers want to know what they are ingesting. The question is whether the wineries will get together and do it voluntarily in some standard method or they fight until it is imposed on them by the state or federal government. Why not be proactive and do it now rather than having it imposed in some rigid way with penalties for non compliance.

  5. Adam Lee says:


    Your mentioning of the state or federal government brings up an important issue. The two do not always agree. Our current label, for instance, is legal federally and in all states…:except for one state where it is rejected by one inspector (but not another). I don’t know that wineries getting together will change that aspect of things. And if the wine changes year to year will that information have to be updated (and new label approvals be acquired and paid for in all of the states?)

    I prefer what we do currently, which is put a QR code on the label that can be scanned and takes a person to the website where the wine note details the winemaking process and ingredients.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  6. Adam

    The QR code is fine with me, when it’s there. However many winery websites are incomplete or out of date. Sometimes you can’t even find information on the current vintage. Quite a few are not mobile friendly either.

    Actually I am as interested in the farming practices as I am what went into the wine. Maybe just nerdiness but I want to know if the wine was acidified ( I have no bias, just curious) or tannins added. Was the wine fined or filtered, etc. I would certainly want to know if there were additives to color the wine.

  7. I agree. I want…
    1) Brix at Harvest
    3) anything above grapes and indigenous yeasts

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