Thoughts on Wine Labeling

I very much enjoyed the recent thread on “Natural Wines” and thought it was a very thought-provoking, civil discussion. It led to several of us having some emails offline about wine labeling and what should be required on a wine label. I am hoping to break off this discussion here in this thread.

One of the points I have made in the emails has been that many people like to mention that wine should have the same labeling requirements as food (that was actually mentioned in the “Natural Wine” thread). And yet, when pressed, oftentimes what they are interested in hearing about is the process involved in the making of the wine. Foods don’t require a listing of processes, rather they require a listing of ingredients. So something, such as filtering a wine, which removes substances wouldn’t be required to be listed under the FDA ingredient labeling requirements.

So, I guess what I would like to know is what do you think about labeling on wines? But I don’t just want to know what you would like done in a perfect, no responsibilities, world. Take it a step further. What do you favor as far as wine labeling requirements? Would they be state or federal requirements? Would they differ from food requirements? Who would you have enforce it? —If you can take it a step or two or three further.

Thanks for the feedback. I won’t be shy…will definitely post some thoughts…and probably be a PITA about the whole thing.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

For me, labels should be a way of providing information, not a way to limit innovation and stifle change.

The gold standard is the Ridge label. Most people ignore it, but for those who are interested, it contains a lot of information on what’s in the bottle. And they’re honest - they tell you if they had to “manipulate” the juice or not.

But they do that with no legal requirement to do so. And frankly, I prefer that. Any producer can do the same - just do it because they want to provide info. Once it becomes a requirement, it ends up like the fine print on your asprin bottle, or the hyper fast disclaimers on all the drug commercials that irritate more than inform.

I think labels of ingredients are fine, but how do you really do those? If you put the wine into oak, it picks up a lot of things from the oak. I suppose if you isolated some compounds and measured their concentrations, those may even be higher than the SO2 that you add. So do you list all the oak-based compounds? They’re added after all.

OTOH, if you say six months of new oak, the people who actually care will have sufficient information. Again, it’s only a few wine geeks who will really care anyway.

I even like listing the cepage, even though it’s quite unnecessary. I was talking to one producer one day and he mentioned that it was fascinating to him that all of the Americans wanted to know the blend of grapes, and not a single European ever asked. But maybe we should require it just to yank the chains of the Bordelais a little bit.

At a minimum, I want the labels to be honest. So if they claim the wines are monovarietal, then they should be. If they state a vintage, then the wine should be from that vintage. Otherwise we should presume that it’s a blend - and I’m in no way averse to leaving the fetish for vintages in the dustbin. If a wine claims to be from an area, no matter how defined, it should be from that area. So if it claims to be from one vineyard or two, it should be, or from one hillside, or from one country. And if there is some kind of trademarked blend/region/name/etc., then the people who use that mark should comply with it. I don’t think there should be much else required.

That way we can get rid of most of the government regs in the US and Europe. If “Brunello” is trademarked and the only people who can call their wine Brunello are those who comply with the regs, that’s good enough for me. Then the other growers can and should plant whatever their hearts take them to. Same w Bordeaux, Rioja, etc. If a wine says “pinot noir” then it should be 100%, not 80%. If it just says “Joe’s Wine”, then it can be anything from anywhere. Nobody is cheated because nobody had any preconceptions.

I pretty much agree. You should be able to print what you like, provided it’s true and not misleading.
That includes the ability to state multiple AVAs where appropriate. Labels should not get rejected for too much information.

I’d like to see tighter controls on %abv as well as %abv on all beers. I’d like to see an agreed definition of ‘old vines’

I’d also like to see an end to arbitrary ‘serving sizes’ and label foods more like they do in Europe (per 100g and per unit)
and an end to the rule that you can label something as ‘fat free’ if it contains less than 0.5g per ‘serving’.

  1. If you add megaPurple or any its sisters and cousins, it should be on the label.

  2. Oaked or unoaked. If oaked percent new oak and what kind.

  3. Was sugar added? Some wines benefit from sugar (German Rieslings) others don’t, imo. Residual sugar amount.

  4. Brix of grapes at picking. Is the winemaker letting the grapes hang until raisining? I’m tired of syruppy wine!

  5. If process is allowed on the list, then manipulations in winemaking. Reverse osmosis, cone spinning, etc.

6.A significant tightening of grape content and alcohol levels reporting. 75% is B.S. If it’s pinot is should be pinot. If you’re slipping in syrah to darken it up and add tannins, fine! Put it on the label.

The percentage of each grape variety used would be very useful (and educational) imo. Even with European wines, I’m not all that happy with situations like Chianti and Chateauneuf, where the wines differ so much from producer to producer depending on what grapes, and in what percentages, they choose to use!

Re the common wisdom that the ABV % on labels is BS, I am looking at a bottle of California Nebbiolo rosato that says “Alcohol 13.42%”. I doubt they just made that up or guessed, seems like someone measured it.

My labels are very minimalist with almost no information on them. This is just part of the “look” I like. I’m not trying to hide what I do (traditional German brewing as done 50 to 100 years ago), but I think that having the information about what I do on the website gives the geeks all they want while keeping my label clean.

While I do care about how a wine-maker plies his/her craft (I try to avoid industrial/over-manipulated wines), I don’t need to have that information on the label. It’s nice to know the philosophy of the winemaker, but if I can get it by talking to them or reading it on their website, I’m happy.

I wouldn’t be against more info - and better info on labels. Even though I’d personally prefer to remain ignorant, standard nutritional stuff like calories, carbohydrates, sodium, etc might not be a bad idea. And true(r) alcohol levels would be nice.

But I’d hate to have to list any and everything done to the wine - simply because listing the “whats” doesn’t tell you the “whys”. And I think why you do something is at least as, or possibly more important, than what you do. And there’s not enough real estate on the label to say all that.

Once you start puuting things on labels, they have to be factual. So saying that the wine was fermented with yeast native to the vineyard needs to be provable. You can’t just assume that was the yeast from the vineyard that really did the fermentation without some lab work to verify it.

And how would you deal with something like “brix at harvest”? There’s so much variation between readings at the crusher, a day in the fermenter, or a backward calculation from the final alcohol level. While the latter might give the truest number, it can be affected by how hard the skins are pressed.

Not as easy as I think most people would assume.


Why would you be against listing megaPurple for example. What if I don’t care about the why? Kinda like I don’t care why some foods have msg. The producer may say it makes the product taste better for less. Don’t care, not buying.

Funny thing with brix at harvest. Some winemakers put it on the fact sheets about the wine. Others don’t like discussing it at all. If we’re in the LWS looking at a pinot we’re not familiar with and it says, picked at 29 brix, probably gives us a pretty good indication of the style of wine.

Since it’s the addition of a different grape variety, I think that would be an appropriate thing to put on a label. Of course, that means that all varieties in the wine would necessarily need to be listed. I’m cool with that too. I’d prefer it didn’t require percentages, since that could be tweaked right up to bottling. So if the wine wasn’t 100% Pinot Noir, you’d need to list the added varieties. Works for me.

But just so we’re on the same page, MegaPurple is not equivalent to MSG. MegaPurple is 100% isolated from grapes. It’s not an “additive” or “artificial” in the traditional sense of those words. And would in no way pose any health risk.

Maybe and maybe not. If the fruit wasn’t too dimpled, the amount of water needed to bring the wine down into the 14.5% range wouldn’t be that much. And the resulting wine may be quite elegant. The flip side is that the wine that said it was picked at 25 brix might have been 28 brix after soak up - once again due to the “when do you measure it” question. And if the winemaker didn’t add water, the resulting wine could be very pruney and over the top.

I think the answer doesn’t lay with the numbers or the process - but rather with the finished product. Maybe each producer needs to rank their wine based on a “bigness” scale. Somewhat arbitrary, but probably a better indicator for the consumer than anything else. Or just rely on reviews as we do now. [drinkers.gif]

I like Greg’s response: let the producer decide what’s of interest. I too have always found the Ridge back labels interesting and informative. The last thing I would want imposed on producers is more government regulation and requirements they have to adhere to.

But to respond to Adam’s original Post, what would be most interesting and informative to me are the numbers that describe the “raw” wine, i.e., the brix at harvest, the natural acidity levels before any rebalancing was done, anything that helps me understand what’s in the bottle.

Personally I’m try to get as little information on the label as I can. I’m down to what’s required (alc, gov warning, vineyard AVA), our two lines of romance and a single line about the vineyard source “Our Syrah comes from the 1989 planting at Eaglepoint Ranch”. I’m in favor of nutrition labeling, I think we have a good story to tell. I know some people would like to read more, and it’s a harder retail sale, but little of my wine goes retail. I’d rather have people come to our blog or website for more details, and I’ve got a ton of them there. In our release letters I always say if I’ve done something ‘unnatural’ to the wine - filter - fine, add water, add acid ect. Mostly those are rare things, but I’ve got no problem telling people about it.

Paul, I agree with not putting the more esoteric info on the label, and really like the idea of providing that information on a web site. As for nutrition labeling, IMO that’s a total waste: wine has water, EtOH, maybe the tiniest amount of sugars, probably sulfites. Sulfites are already on every label, alcohol goes without saying. Calorie information is a waste and unnecessary. What do you think would be useful on this front?

Alan - I think for a consumer walking down a grocery aisle, ‘we’ have a good story to tell them:

Calories per serving 90
Fat = 0
carbs = 0

It’s a ‘sexy’ story that I think would get more casual consumers to pick up a bottle of wine vs beer, soda, or other alternatives. Some of those consumers will eventually upgrade to the super premium level. My opinion is by not having it there it seems like we are hiding something. I’m amazed at the number of people I talk with who think wine is more than grapes and yeast and think there are other additives. Like I said, I think we have a good story compared to the competition and we should tell it.

Well, I agree that’s a pretty good story! I would just hate for producers to HAVE to do it. After all, every wine on the shelf is pretty much the same, within10-15% or so :wink:

That’s a good point, Paul. I’ve certainly talked to people who assumed that because a wine included aromas or flavors like raspberry, lavender, cloves, mocha, etc. that some sort of flavorings (other than new oak!) must be added to the wine.


That’s interesting, at least from my point of view. I don’t even measure any numbers until approximately 48 hours after harvest, believing that to get an accurate set of numbers you need to wait at least that long. I can promise you that someone would appear to pick less ripe than I do, simply by taking the numbers right at crush.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Adam, that would be fine as well. My point being only that the numbers give me some indication (not an ironclad metric, of course, but some sense) of the tenor of the vintage. Recognizing that “numbers” aren’t the be all/end all of anything :wink: But if I follow a particular vineyard, numbers from year to year do tell me something. As Brian points out, it’s possible to make nice wine from a pretty wide range of fruit - but the flavors are what I’m most interested in, not the final alcohol content, and IMO flavor is determined to a large extent by ripeness level at harvest.

I’m interested in as much info as possible-

Ingredients / additions often indicate a process, but not all processes require an ingredient (sterile filtration)…

If you added tartaric, h20, yeast, enzymes, megaP, chap, etc, I’d like to know. I’d also like to know real alc%, and RS. If there’s room on the label for the why, great, if not, I’d still like to know what you did to it.


On a practical level, how far in advance are some of those decisions made — and how far in advance do you have to send labels to a printer? How much money are you willing to spend on label licensing?

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines