Much is still unclear in the drive toward ingredient labels but,
it seems, the legislation is unavoidable.
By Jeff Siegel
Talk to those who follow these things, and some sort of ingredient and nutritional labeling is coming to wine in the next couple of years. Says Michael Kaiser, WineAmerica’s executive vice president and director of government affairs, “This may be inevitable. We just want the format to be as least invasive as possible, in terms of producer cost and infringement on valuable label real estate.” (To submit your comments to WA’s survey on the topic, click here.)
What do producers need to know to get ready? This Q and A, compiled from interviews with analysts, producers and trade group officials, offers an overview.
Q: Is there a timeline for the labeling process?
A: The best estimates – and, everyone emphasizes, this is only a qualified guess – is that the TTB will approve allergens and nutrition labels by the end of this year, with ingredients getting the OK sometime in 2024.
Q: Allergens? When did that get into the mix?
A: That’s the least glitzy part of the process and has been overlooked in most reports, but allergens are part of the process and will have to be included. How this information will be conveyed is, again, still unclear, but it could take a format similar to the nut allergen warning on foods.
Q: How will the approval process work?
A: The TTB will ask for comments about adding nutrition and allergen information, perhaps as soon as this spring, as part of what’s called a Notice of Rulemaking. The agency will consider all comments and then craft and publish a rule that will detail how nutrition and allergen information should be listed.
The ingredient process isn’t as far along. The TTB still has to do an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking — the “pre-rule” phase for ingredients. That means TTB will ask for comments and consider what’s said. The agency will move to a Notice of Rulemaking for ingredients. That almost certainly won’t happen until the middle of 2024.
In addition to industry comments, TTB is also facing pressure from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) lawsuit, which alleges the federal government has failed to act on a 19-year-old petition urging it to require alcohol labeling “with the same basic transparency consumers expect in foods.”
Q: So this isn’t a done deal yet?
A: Those who are following the issue say, if it’s not a done deal, then it’s about as close to one as possible. Having said that, one noted attorney who works with liquor law has predicted a wave of lawsuits to prevent the TTB from enacting new rules: “Wine is not Cheetos,” he wrote recently.
Q: Do we have any idea what the allergen and nutrition labels will look like? They aren’t talking about the fact box that’s on canned soup, are they?
A: That’s what will be decided during the rulemaking process, as well as what information will need to be included. Calories? Probably. But probably not things like sodium and fat, since wine doesn’t have any. Several industry trade groups are advocating for QR codes, which will link to a winery’s website where it will list the relevant information.
Wine Institute VP, Federal & International Public Policy Charles Jefferson says, “We continue to explore innovative approaches, such as off-label disclosure via electronic means, to minimize the burden on producers while ensuring consumers have access to the information they want.”
That way, wineries won’t have to change their labels every vintage but can just update the information on their website. The physical label will still likely require the ABV, though.
Q: The European Union is adopting QR codes for similar purposes, correct?
A: The EU, thanks to an effort by European winemakers, will use QR codes (u-label.com) when its labeling rule begins in December 2023. “There was big pressure at the EU to eliminate the exemption for communicating the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration,” says Ignacio Sanchez Recarte, the secretary general of the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins trade group. “But instead of waiting for a Commission proposal or, even worse, for member states to develop individual national legislation, we decided to proactively request the adoption of rules for wines.”
Q: Does this mean we know even less about what the ingredient label requirement will be?
A: Exactly. If QR codes are adopted, ingredients will probably be allowed to be listed through the codes. It’s less clear what ingredients will be required. One guess: Only ingredients that are in the finished product and not those that disappear during the winemaking process. For example, we just don’t know if individual grape names will be required or if “grape juice concentrate” will be sufficient for products like Mega Purple.
Q: Can wineries get a head start by listing some of this now?
A: Yes, thanks to a TTB rule adopted in 2013 that allows for voluntary disclosure. Some Ridge (pictured in opening image) and Bonny Doon wines already list ingredients, as well as a number of spirits brands bottles. [The ingredients legislation will also include beer, cider and spirits.]
Q: What happens if I export wine to Europe? Which label rules will I need to use?
A: The EU label. But there is hope that, if the TTB adopts a rule similar to the one in the EU, that a U.S. QR code will also satisfy EU requirements.
Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”