One way a winery can run afoul of labeling regulations is by including specific information that is prohibited by federal law. This was a topic of interest at the my recent presentation to attendees of the Midwest Grape and Wine Conference and Trade Show hosted by Vineyard and Winery Management in St. Charles, Missouri. Fundamentally, TTB has an interest in making sure that the consumer is not misled by a wine label. Federal regulations, therefore, provide a general rule that a winery must follow when labeling its wine is to make sure that the brand name does not create any “impression or inference as to the age, origin, identity, or other characteristics of the product unless the appropriate TTB officer finds that such brand name, either when qualified by the word ‘brand’ or when not so qualified, conveys no erroneous impressions as to the age, origin, identity, or other characteristics of the product.” If so, then the label is prohibited and deemed to be misleading.
Of particular interest at the recent conference presentation were questions about regulations relating to the use of the words “vineyard,” “orchard,” “farm,” or “ranch.” It may surprise you to find out that these are some of the most highly regulated words found on a wine label. The regulations explain that when used in a brand name, a vineyard, orchard, farm or ranch name having geographical or viticultural significance is subject to the requirements in the paragraph above. Further, a brand name of viticultural significance may not be used unless the wine meets the appellation of origin requirements for the geographic area named. There are some variations to this last rule for certificates of label approval issued prior to July 7, 1986.
Additionally, federal regulations state: “the name of a vineyard, orchard, farm or ranch shall not be used on a wine label, unless 95 percent of the wine in the container was produced from primary winemaking material grown on the named vineyard, orchard, farm or ranch.” This rule refers generally to the use of a label on the wine bottle, rather than the brand label or some other label. As such it should be interpreted to mean any form of label on the bottle itself.
Presumably TTB created this rule believing that consumers would assume the material used to produce the wine came predominantly from the small geographic area referenced to by use of the words “vineyard, orchard, farm or ranch.” Therefore, virtually all of the winemaking material–whether grapes, other fruit, or something else–must originate from this defined territory.
Based on comments at the conference, it is likely that many winemakers have questions about this topic. We welcome your label and regulatory questions, so please feel free to contact us about the above issues or any others.