Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Who Monitors Labels?

Posted by EMark, May 26, 2016.

This morning I was pontificating in the coffee shop about wine bottle labeling.  My buddy, being the the ex-lawyer type, asked a lawyer question.  Who monitors this stuff?

I then realized that I had never heard of anybody (OK, I'm talking domestically, here.) being accused of say:

  • Labeling a bottle as "Cabernet Sauvignon" and, then, being caught for selling a blend that contained less than 75% Cabernet Sauvignon.
     
  • Or, labeling a bottle as "Russian River Valley" and, then, being caught for selling a wine that was, say, 50% RRV and 50% Central Coast--or, gasp, 100% Central Coast.

So, what organization is responsible for verifying the veracity of wine labels? 

Has anybody ever heard of a winery that has been sanctioned for or even accused of violating labeling laws?

Replies

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Reply by EMark, May 26, 2016.

OK, since composing the above, I’ve done some on-line research and it appears that U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is responsible for enforcement in the U.S.

Notice at the top of this web page that there is a solicitation to report fraud.

However, notice a bit farther down the page the bullet Market-based Sampling Programs.

Clicking on that link I learned

Each year we conduct the ABSP by purchasing products from the marketplace and bringing them to our offices for label assessments to determine if products are in compliance with our labeling regulations. Following the label assessments, we send the products to our laboratories to undergo a series of analyses to determine compliance with certain information displayed on the product labels.

OK, so it looks like they drive to the local Total Wine or corner liquor store or whatever and buy a few bottles for their labs to test.

Here is a summary of 2010 results from this sampling program for wine.

Label Compliance

·        We estimate that 96 percent (±3 percent) of all wine labels in the marketplace are in compliance with Federal alcohol beverage laws and regulations.

Findings:

·        Reasons for non-compliance in our sample included:

o   No approved COLA.

o   Additional labels appeared on the container (other than those included on the approved COLA).

o   Additional information appeared on the bottle or cap that did not appear on the approved COLA.

Content Compliance

·        We estimate that 96 percent (±3 percent) of wine products in the marketplace are in compliance with Federal alcohol beverage laws and regulations for wine.

Findings:

·        Reasons for non-compliance in our sample included:

o   Containers were over-filled.

o   Actual alcohol content was less than that stated on the label.

o   Actual alcohol content was more than that stated on the label.

o   Acid content in the wine exceeded allowable limits.

o   Solids content in the wine exceeded allowable limits.

Overall Findings:

·        We found no significant difference in labeling and content compliance rates for domestic and imported products.

·        The overall marketplace compliance rate for wine labels together with the compliance rate for content is 94 percent ± 3 percent.  

 

All the “COLA” stuff appears to be changes to labels that had not been approved by the TTB. 

The “Content Compliance” section appears to cover quantitative stuff that is pretty easy to check in a lab.

I'm going to scratch my head a bit on their percentages of compliance.  I'm not sure I understand everythng I know there.

I don’t see how they can verify the source of the grapes, unless somebody calls their Fraud Hotline and accuses his competitor of malfeasance.  Even then, however, that sounds like an accusation and not proof.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 26, 2016.

My guess is that they look at the books of what was shipped when they are evaluating varietal content compliance.  But, yeah, it would be hard to do. Ok, wait, now I know how they do it, although I wasn't sure it was possible:  Some DNA of the variety survives fermentation.  Might have to subscribe to the Journal of the Institute of Brewing.  Or not. 

As far as ABV, winemakers have told me (in front of other folks regularly on here) that they usually use the same ABV number from year to year because it's only got to be close, and no one really tests it anyway.  Getting new label approval could mean getting tested. 

Now, about those over-filled bottles...

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Reply by rckr1951, May 27, 2016.

This is the only one in recent memory (not that I can remember way back anyway):

http://www.breitbart.com/california/2015/01/26/two-buck-chuck-faux-cabernet-scandal-hits-napas-elite-brands/

It was cheap wine - I just remember one of the area's had it on their BOTTOM shelf and still couldn't sell it at all - Paul

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Reply by GregT, May 27, 2016.

Mark - for the most part they rely on the neighbors.

Kind of like housing code violations and permits and things like wage rate laws. They aren't going to do DNA tests of your wine. But if you're selling something from RRV that really is from somewhere else and a competitor drops a dime on you, a few agents might show up. TTB approves your labels before you can put them on the bottles for sale but they don't go out and do follow up checks on every wine.

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Reply by EMark, May 27, 2016.

Thanks, guys.

I had never heard of Jeffrey James Hill, before.  I'm sure he was big news up in the Napa area, and I'm surprised that I did not see anything about him on the wine boards.  So, the article that you pointed to was pretty interesting, Paul.  I did a bit more searching, and this artilce in the NY Times is very interesting--"In Vino Veritas, In Napa, Deceit."

Two things from that ariticle supported the comments of Foxall and GregT:  there is, in fact, a pretty good paper trail that documents grapes' provenance and, yes, the TTB is, pretty much, dependent on whistleblowers to make an investigation.

Also, the NYT article had a few other comments that poke fun at various wine mythologies.  You know I loved that.

;-)

 

 

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Reply by rckr1951, May 27, 2016.

EMARK - thanks for the follow up article - interesting indeed.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 27, 2016.

The Jeff Hill story is something, isn't it?  InVino has been selling the wine via their flash site/email list, and I've seen it at the discounter.  You can't sell it in Europe at all (I think the article explains it) and, after reading all that, why would you trust that what's in the bottle is anything but Central Valley bulk juice of who knows what variety?  At least he didn't kill anyone during a chase through the vineyards.  

Needless to say, if your neighbors are getting tankers of juice, or grapes at a time when no one in your neck of the woods is picking, and then labeling it from your AVA with a SVD displayed, esp one you contract with, you are likely to 1) say something to them and 2) drop a dime if they don't explain things well enough.  But it wouldn't be hard to buy shiners or use a custom crush facility out of the way, substitute grapes, then sell the finished product that you labeled elsewhere.  Heck, Rudi K (here we go, bait for that wine fraud guy) made his own DRC and Ponsot and it took ages for anyone to catch on. 

Two solutions:  Buy from people you know and, if you are OT, you can watch the actual grapes come in from harvest  Not foolproof, but works well for those of us near the source. Or, buy stuff no one would bother counterfeiting/cheating about.  Chianti, CdR, Pinot Grigio, the possibilities are endless, if somewhat limiting in other ways. 

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Reply by duncan 906, May 27, 2016.

You chaps are only talking about the USA. The French have an organisation that monitors AOC rules. If you buy a bottle of French wine you can be confident that all the grapes came from that defined geographical area and that the winemaker has stuck to the aproved methods of viticulture and winemaking for that appellation

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Reply by dmcker, May 27, 2016.

Actually, Duncan, not so simple as all that. French and Italians have long histories of scandals regarding the origins and content of their bottlings. If you know the mindsets of many Gaullic agriculturalists that's no surprise. Ditto for those scofflaw Italians...  ;-(

I'm out the door right now to help build a park, but let's continue this thread which is becoming interesting.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 27, 2016.

Duncan, I'm with Dave on this.  Yes, they have a monitoring agency, but that's also what the TTB is.  (Formerly part of ATF, but alcohol and firearms aren't a good mix.) Adulterating wine is older than regulating it, meaning the Europeans have lots of experience at it and are pretty good at it.  Rumor almost never go away that someone is putting this into that (Cab into Barolo, Syrah into Burgundy, Syrah into Bordeaux, which used to be the accepted practice...), although it would be harder to do now.  Of course, hard to know how you would regulate wines like CdP, which can have anything in it as long as its grown within those borders... but a vintner may literally have some vines on the other side of a stone wall and maybe he could sell a little more than he can make from his galet-strewn holdings, or the crop came a little short.  He sells a lake of CdR made in the same winery, what's to say he wouldn't divert a little into a tank, even just "topping them up." and charge a little more?  Frankly, the wine's probably just as good.  Funny thing is CdP was the first AOC, and it was 99% marketing.  It worked.  I've got to think that Euro regulators are similarly overworked, susceptible to graft, shiftless, as anywhere else. 

Who can forget Louis Renault's bet with Rick in Casablance, lowered because he's "only a poor corrupt official?"

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Reply by EMark, May 27, 2016.

Who can forget Louis Renault's bet with Rick in Casablance, lowered because he's "only a poor corrupt official?"

Well. I certainly can't.

Your previous post solved all worries might have, Fox.  From now on I only buy OT-certified wines. 

I've enjoyed and appreciate everybodies comments.  Thank you.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 31, 2016.

Emark, I just finished reading a  book about wine myths and grapevine physiology called "Terroir and Other Myths of Winemaking."  Like a more technical version of some of GregT's already technical posts here, it shares his attitude that too much of what people "know" about wine is BS.  In the section about "terroir," the author points out that many tastings involving "experts" have shown that you can't tell where wines came from in blind tastings.  In an aside, he notes that it also wouldn't be so easy to counterfeit wine if people could reliably place wines as they claim they can, and cites that article about Hill that you linked to.  Or, as GregT says, "The problem with blind tastings is that sometimes you choose the wrong wine." 

BTW, "terroir," or "gout de terroir," the taste of soil, used to be a bad thing, not good. 

Finally, Emark, I want a little credit:  I think the Rockpile wines were certified by me.  ;-)

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Reply by EMark, May 31, 2016.

Finally, Emark, I want a little credit:  I think the Rockpile wines were certified by me.

Really?  I don't see any "Certified by Foxall" hologram stickers on them.  Or, do they have RFID integrated into the foil capsule?   ;-)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, May 31, 2016.

Where on my Halcon do I look for the OT certification?

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Reply by EMark, May 31, 2016.

Gosh, you're right!!!

I guess I just have to dump those Halcons that I have.  Obviously, the are counterfeit.

I know.  I'll give them to my brother.  He'll drink anything.  Even better, I'll sell them to him.   BWAH HA HAH.


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