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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
10/17/2012
Wednesday Warblings
The Call For Ingredient Labeling Intensifies

By Stephen Eliot

A quiet push for ingredient labeling is making its round once again, but please understand that this is nothing new. I applaud those who embrace the notion of ingredient labeling on wine, and I think that it is nice that there are folks like Randall Grahm who are willing to oblige. I do not, however, hold with those who would lobby for laws making it mandatory, and I also think that very few people really care.

I remember when some twenty-five years back after a decade or so of legal jousting and warring opinion about the virtues and pitfalls of ingredient labeling in wine, a caring and conscientious Congress made it the federal law of the land that any bottle of wine would at least henceforward carry government warnings as to its sulphite content. There was, at first, a bit if stir amongst those of us who drink wine, but the real impact on the market seems to have been nil. Wine consumption did not slow. In fact the ranks of those who drink wine grew exponentially in the 1990s and continues to do so today.

Over the course of two decades of teaching, I was rarely asked by my culinary students about said sulphite warnings, and I would guess that no more than a handful were even aware of their existence. Now, bear in mind, these were bright and involved people who paid great attention to the quality and nature of ingredients in the kitchen. When informed of the warnings and why they were there, their reactions were rarely those of grateful discovery and new awareness and more often a shrug of the shoulders and a question of “will this be on the test?”

My point, dear readers, is that if something so ominous as a “government warning” has been so largely ignored, I simply must question just how many people really give a damn about whether or not a wine employs cultured yeast, has been made using yeast nutrients or contains sulphites, bentonite , or, gasp, grape concentrate.

Now, I do not mean to belittle those who want to know, and I would encourage every winemaker to include all pertinent information about ingredients and winemaking technique on his or her label should they like. I confess that I revel in knowing every last piece of minutiae about how a wine is made, but only after I have tasted the wine. I am fully aware that such trivia are in no way reliable predictors of how much I like will the wine, and I do not see why anyone other than we few wine-obsessed scholastics would really care about such information if it did not provide useful markers to quality, character or style.

As Mr. Grahm found out some time ago, while the wine press might view such practices positively, the response from consumers was “largely non-existent”. I would give Randall a very respectful tip of the cap for the honesty of admitting that his intent in adopting ingredient labeling was in part to “publicly claim private virtue”, but I do not see that his hoped-for “beginning of an interesting dialogue” has amounted to much…at least not yet. On the other hand, Mr. Grahm rarely tosses out an idea and runs away, and he will likely lead the “naturalists” into increasingly frequent and loudly stated calls for ingredient labeling.


 

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Comments

Question
by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:10/18/2012 5:06:37 AM

Stephen,

A question about voluntary inclusion of "ingredients" and/or "winemaking techniques" on the label.  A couple of years back Randall had a couple of stuck ferments, which he was able to eventually get to go dry by putting quartz crystals under the tanks.  Their energy apparently penetrated thru the stainless steel bottoms of the tanks and powered the yeasts allowing them to finish their task.  This was a topic, brought up by Randall, on Twitter.

Do you think that should be placed on the label if one is determined to list ingredients and processes?  Does the TTB have a duty to verify the veracity of such information, printed there voluntarily or not?

Adam Lee

Siduri Wines

Each wine is unique
by Brian Loring
Posted on:10/18/2012 11:21:37 AM

Even if you put the TTB rules regarding label approval aside, and how long a lead time you need to accomplish that, you're still left with the fact that things may be done/added to the wine right up until bottling.  There's no set formula, or list of ingrdients that get used all the time, like a manufactured product (soft drinks, cereal, etc).  It would be impossible to be 100% accurate and still be able to label your product at bottling.  And forcing wineries to label at a later time would cause huge cost increases - plus would never be allowed by the TTB.   The Feds don't like unlabeled alcohol sitting around.

Wine is not peanut butter!
by Mike Officer
Posted on:10/18/2012 4:29:14 PM

CGCW certainly knows my position on ingredient labeling. I believe that it is currently nothing more than a form of marketing by those who do so.  I also contend that for those wines in which it is done, it is not even truly accurate. Based on the labels I've seen, it's more like "selective" ingredient labeling.  Why no mention of all the spiders and earwigs that end up in tank?  Why no mention of Brettanomyces on one label listing ingredients when the wine clearly had 4-EP and 4-EG?

Anyone who advocates ingredient labeling on wine simply doesn't understand that wine is a unique product that is not made by some standard recipe year after year after year.  They also don't understand that many things added to wine only act upon the wine and do not end up in the final product. Ingredient labeling would offer nothing to consumers (find me one documented case of someone having an allergic reaction to a wine because it was egg white, isinglass, or casein fined), would cause confusion for those not intimately familiar with winemaking, and could potentially lead to inferior wines at a higher cost.  Of course, tax payers would have to be willing to fund yet another government agency to enforce and monitor ingredient labeling.  Is this really worth it when the few that are interested can simply call a winery and ask?

Which is why...
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:10/18/2012 4:53:57 PM

...I cannot imagine and would never support some strict legal code for ingredient labeling. Geez, we can't get it right with regards to alcohol as it is, and I would not want winemakers to be faced with the time and considerable cost of regulation. We all know who gets to pick up the tab. It is just that I am interested in,isteniung to what any winemaker might have to say.

And, Adam, you make a very good point with regards to Randall's use of magic crystals. I would see not any problem with him mentioning that he did so on the label as long as he did not claim that there was any solid science behind it, and that this or that outcome was the incontrovertible truth. i.e. "this is what I did, this is what happened and this is why I think it did" seems okay to me.

 It is another thing, however, if your question about "veracity" had to do with the scientific validity of such claims. It would be no different than seeling snake oil, and I would not support such unempirical silliness. Than again, I have read some pretty far-fetched and wholly unprovable claims about everything from native yeast superiority to dung-filled cowhorns to the absolute virtues of concrete eggs, etc. I like the idea and beleive  that a winemaker should be free to to tell what he or she did, but please do not try to justify this or that practice as scientifically absolute.

No, I don't really see that TTB could possibly investigate and verify every claim...in fact, I'll bet Randfall could keep the entire agency busy all by himself.

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