Effective November 13, 2012, TTB adopted a new rule that allows a vintage date to appear on wine that is labeled with a country as an appellation of origin. It is anticipated that both domestic and foreign winemakers will benefit from more flexibility for grape sourcing and wine labeling.
Prior to the adoption of this rule, regulations defined “vintage wine” as wine labeled with the year of harvest of the grapes and the wine must be labeled with an appellation of origin other than a country, which would not be allowed on such a label. The historical rationale of such a rule seems to date back to the late 1970s. TTB implied in their explanation that in order to protect consumers, the vintage date should provide consumers information about harvest conditions and presumably using a country as an appellation of origin would simply be too broad, thereby potentially misleading consumers.
So why the change now? The European Commission petitioned TTB for the change because they felt the rule created difficulty for its member countries. The Commission argued that it was unfair to allow an appellation of origin for a state like California, when a member of the Commission like Portugal was geographically smaller, but could not be an appellation of origin on a vintage wine.
Further, they argued that the rule was inconsistent. As an example, the general varietal labeling rule states that one or more grape varieties may be used as the type of designation of a grape wine only if the wine is also labeled with an appellation of origin. For this purpose, the regulations included countries within the definition of “appellation of origin.”
Ultimately, the arguments were persuasive. Some industry members expressed concern, but TTB indicated the majority of commentators were positive and the vintage date can provide useful, truthful information to consumers. TTB believes that an adjustment to this regulation will better allow it to meet its regulatory requirements of under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act to prohibit consumer deception and the use of misleading statements on labels, while ensuring that labels provide the consumer with adequate information as to the identity and quality of the product.
Should you have any questions about this or any other label issue, please contact our office.