Friday, November 12, 2010

Estate Wines.... there will soon be an 'official' definition

Last week's election will have consequences for the wine industry, but the most important change in government might have come from a tiny notice in the Federal Register the following day.

The TTB, the federal agency that oversees alcohol, is thinking about officially defining the word "estate."

If it happens, some wineries are going to have to change either their names or their entire business practices.

Here's an example. The Wente family owns a brand called Tamas Estates.* It's not a bad wine; the Pinot Grigio is good value for $10. But it's not what Europeans would think of as "estate wine." It's mass-produced from grapes purchased from a huge area -- California's "Central Coast," which stretches all the way from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.

This has never been a problem for the Wentes, because the TTB has no official definition for "Estate" or "Estates.

The TTB does, however, define "Estate bottled." A winery can use that on a label only if it made the wine entirely on its own property (including leased land). That includes growing the grapes, fermenting the wine and even barrel- and bottle-aging it.

Recently some unnamed winery approached the TTB about using "estate grown" on a label, arguing that it shouldn't have to meet the same standards as "estate bottled."

Rather than just roll over and say OK, the TTB opened it for public comment, asking 9 questions about how "estate" could or should be defined.

Question No. 1 ought to have wineries paying their lawyers to formulate a reply. It is: "Does the use of the term 'estate' or 'estates' as part of a name or otherwise on wine labels convey specific information about the product to the consumer and, if so, what information does it convey?"

And if that's not clear enough, question No. 2 is, "Should TTB propose to define the term 'Estate' in the regulations when not used in the expression 'Estate bottled'? If so, what should that definition be?"

Aw, let's beat a dead horse. Question 8 is, "Should TTB continue to permit the use of 'Estate(s) vineyard(s),' 'Vineyard estate(s),' or 'Estate(s) wines' or other similar terms, whether or not preceded by the winery name, on product labels when the wine does not meet the 'Estate bottled' standards in section 4.26? Why or why not?"

Look out, Tamas Estates. And Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. And ...

But it only takes one big angry winery to make a huge stink over laws like this. Korbel can still call its sparkling wine "Champagne" because it convinced the US government to go to trade war over our American right to be stubbornly uneducated.

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