Wine ingredient labeling

Here`s a very interesting article in the Underground Wineletter that merits reviewing:

It surprises me that people with some wine knowledge (like Tilson and Kramer) are vocal advocates for ingredient labeling. They’re not really asking for ingredient labeling; they’re asking for how a wine was made. Ingredient labeling would do nothing more than slap handcuffs on winemakers. The result would be lesser quality wine at a potentially higher cost. The consumer loses. And how would it even be enforced? Plenty of room for unscrupulous producers to fudge. Wine is not peanut butter, made by some standard recipe every year. It’s not like brewing up a batch of Budweiser. Wine is truly unique. Those that want to know how a wine was made should get to know their producers and ask questions.

Okay, flame away! pileon


I won’t flame you. As someone who was hugely disappointed by the GMO labeling failing to pass a public vote, I was frustrated by the lack of foresight to address the issues you raise.

The spirit of the issue & one that isn’t easily resolved by simply creating a label requirement isn’t one that would affect Carlisle or most other producers making great wine the right way. I would like to see some qc attached to industrial production wines, especially those owned by huge beverage companies.

How the label requirement affects imports is not addressed in the article & you make a great point about consumer protection.

I would love to see some sensible middle ground emerge & hold the Two Buck Chucks of the world accountable for what is in those bottles.

Thanks Anthony for being kind to me. [cheers.gif] Yeah, I have no issue with the big boys needing to provide more information about what goes in their wines. But it’s a real grey area. First, what is the definition of an ingredient? I think most would accept that the definition is a component of something. Correct? So let’s take something that should be very simple - Saccharomyces. If you add cultured yeasts, then I think most would agree it should be listed as an ingredient. But what if you don’t add cultured yeast, do you need to list it as an ingredient? If you say yes in both cases, how is that information helpful to consumers? And what if the wine was pushed through a .45 membrane filter at bottling. Now there are no yeast cells in the wine. If there are no yeast cells in the wine, how can yeasts be a component, i.e., an ingredient? And why just list Saccharomyces? What about other strains that can be present in wine - like Dekkera, Kloeckera, and Hanseniaspora? Why discriminate against those? Shouldn’t they be listed as well? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What about fining agents that act upon wine but aren’t in the wine. If they’re not in the wine, how can they be ingredients? And what about all the insects that end up in a fermentor? The ants, bees, spiders, earwigs, ladybugs, etc? Shouldn’t those be listed? And all the different kind of bacteria. And tartaric acid? Do you list that if added but don’t list it if it’s not? But isn’t that confusing for the consumer unless they understand a bit about winemaking and grapes? And as you rightly point out, what about imports? Do we actually think we can get imported wines to comply? It’s enough to make my head explode!

And then there’s just the logistics. Bottling wine is a process that needs to be planned months in advance. That includes getting labels printed. What happens when labels are printed and a month before bottling a winemaker decides to quickly fine a wine to decrease tannin? It’s prohibitively expensive to reprint a small batch of labels and you can’t just postpone bottling the wine to a later date. Does he forgo the fining and produce a lesser quality wine? Does he do it anyway even though his label is now illegal? This would be a total nightmare for small artisanal producers trying to produce the best wine possible each year.

I wonder if earwig and spider will have to be classified separately, or just fall under MOG?

All laws passed by our bone head idiot politicians are fraught with not-well thought but well meaning intentions. Typically it takes years to straighten them out and work through all the loop holes and unintended consequences. However, what I find with regards to this issue is many wine makers, and more so large corporations, who don’t want the world to know the back room “secrets” of large scale wine making.

Any wine maker knows there are things they do at some point in the fields, and/or through bottling, but don’t tell the general public over some perceived backlash. People like a good story and wine making is full of it, probably too full of it, IMO. I am all for telling people how it’s made and what’s used to make it. Matter of fact, this may actually hold some accountable and prevent them from taking a short cut. The potential downside is large amounts of inexpensive wines may go up in price as a result of companies changing how they make the wines so they don’t have to list something like Mega Purple on the label.

Ridge is doing a fine job of giving a clear sense of what goes into their wine and how, so it seems that it is possible to accomplish even with a broad portfolio of wines. It’s hard to tell from the outside, but the fact that fine, filter or add water doesn’t seem to have hurt their business. I’d really like to see more wineries do something similar.

Maybe the point being made is that it would be difficult to write this into a set of regulations?

Agree Andy, but keep in mind most of the laws they pass are driven by some special-interest lobby. Is there really one actively clamoring for this?

In this case, which agency will be tasked with inspecting/analyzing/enforcing this regulation? Or, will there be a new one setup? Where will the money come from to pay for this agency (hint: the wine consumer). And, what specifically is the risk or danger we’re supposed to be protected from? For my two cents, there are certainly way more hazardous things being pumped into our food and air than into wine. Seems like starting with those makes more sense.


Ridge is a great example! On their 2012 Lytton Springs label, they list “Ingredients:…indigenous yeasts; naturally occurring malolactic bacteria…” If you go to the Wine Note online, however, you learn that the wine was “Pad filtered at bottling.” Thus, two of the Ingredients they list are no longer ingredients in the wine. That seems that it would be odd and confusing to average consumer.

What I like (and what we do) is put all of the information we can on our individual wine notes, and then put a QR code on the label that leads consumers to the wine note that includes that information. I much prefer this as it seems to allow us to give as much information as we can, and not have to deal with the time issues to go along with label approval and registration.


Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Was in the midst of a reply to you Larry but I see Adam and Jim made the points I was going to make. Right now, any “ingredient” labeling I see being done is really more about marketing than anything else.

I do not understand arguments against ingredient labeling of any product you put in your body.

All laws passed by our bone head idiot politicians are fraught with not-well thought but well meaning intentions.

Andy - not to get off track but that’s naive in the extreme. I’ve worked around politicians for many many years and there’s very little “well-meaning” involved. It’s about taking care of those who support you. Doesn’t matter if it’s a charity, an activist group, or the Koch brothers.

As to ingredient labeling, what do they do with bread? I buy lots of bread at the bakery if I don’t make it myself and I rarely see an ingredient label. I don’t buy it at the supermarket in the plastic, so I don’t know if that’s labeled or not, but the local stuff sure isn’t.

I like the idea of knowing what’s in the wine, but Mike makes a good point. Moreover, unlike pretty much anything else, wine is sometimes purchased precisely because it will change so do you note that on the list of ingredients? It’s in a unique category. I like Adam’s idea of providing a link. People who care will check it out. Others will be like the folks who go to the MacDonald’s drive in. Maybe they just don’t want to know.

Off the top, I suppose one could distinguish between what is added to become an ingredient, like Mega Purple, and what becomes an ingredient because of trace remnants, like egg or bentonite.

Fortunately, I understand the arguments in favor of it and against it, as well as the complexity that would be involved. So just go along with what I say… neener

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Hardy, I’m as health conscientious as they come. I’ve managed to never taste Coca-Cola or eat a Big Mac. We buy local and organic as fully as possible. The statement you make is one with which most general consumers would agree. But it comes at a price, a price that I believe is simply not worth it. And most consumers, if they understood the price, would too. It adds burden for little gain. Again, if you want to know how a wine is made, ask. If you don’t feel a producer is being honest, then don’t buy the wine.

Questions for you Hardy… If you sterile filter a wine such that there are no yeast cells in the wine, do you list yeast as an ingredient, even though there’s none there? If you do, isn’t that false information? What if someone has an allergy to yeast and can drink wines sterile filtered but otherwise not? If you fine a wine with egg white and the final wine has no trace of egg white protein, do you list egg whites as an ingredient. And a few more… How do you list all the insects that end up breaking down and becoming part of the wine? Do you list those as ingredients? Oh, and how do you propose all of this is accurately enforced without raising wine prices and hampering a winemaker’s ability to make wine?

I think you are confusing someone wanting to know about winemaking with consumers wanting to know what is in the product they are consuming.

You can point out countless “what ifs?” and it still doesn’t change the fact that many people would rather know what is in something they ingest or not. Whether the ingredient list is what is remaining in the end product or a total list of ingredients added in the process is not for me to decide.

Huh? It’s exactly that kind of thinking that resulted in Prop 65. Look at how successful that has been.

I couldn’t agree more with you Hardy.

Wine is the “final frontier of mystification” as far as food products go. So many casual wine drinkers still are hoodwinked by wine’s “natural” claims, even those who are very sophisticated about what they eat.

And, yes, politicians are venal and corrupt and make mistakes in regulation. The alternative is to go back to the situation depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. If you haven’t already read that, it’s an eye opener about what things were like in the pre food regulation days.


I couldn’t disagree with you more. Currently, as a consumer, you have the final choice as to whether a producer having an “ingredient list” is important to you or not. As a producer, you currently have the right to decide whether you include an “ingredient list” or not on your bottles, on your wine notes, or not at all. You have the right to list on your website "minimal sulfur"or to list the total amount of sulfur. You are currently the only one that gets to decide.

But at some point, that might not be the case and you might not be the decision maker. Then, either the TTB or the FDA will propose rules regarding labeling of ingredients. At that point, we all will have the opportunity to comment on those rules. And comment we should, whether in favor, against, or some of both. That’s how the system works. And that system, despite its occasional issues, has led to a wine business in this country that is both thriving (look at how many small producers, including Dirty and Rowdy, have sprung up even in difficult economic times) and yet also have a remarkable health and safety record when compared to many other wine-producing areas.

Personally, I hope you reconsider and lend your voice to the discussion, one way or the other.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

This certainly is an interesting discussion and I can see both sides of the issue here.

I understand what Hardy is saying about wanting to know what you are ingesting. I also understand Mike’s arguments about what is actually in the final product versus what elements you put in to get there.

I wonder how this applies to other foods that are labeled. I’ve never really looked at the labeling on many pre-packaged foods but I do wonder if ingredients are listed even if these are not in the final product. I do know that isinglass is used in a lot of beverage products as a clarifying agent yet I don’t see it listed anywhere. And I’ve been told that velcorin is used in beverages as well, but again, have never seen it listed.

I am of the opinion that if such a law was passed, what remains in the wine should be stated - not things that were added that have been broken down or removed. It simply would create way too much information out there and I do not think would be ‘beneficial’ to the consumer. And this does not have to do with cost.

As far as the general consumer goes, I don’t think this has ANYTHING to do with them. I’ve never had a consumer come into my tasting room or at a tasting and ask me for all of the ingredients that go into my wine or anyone elses. I do wonder who is truly ‘pushing’ for this and why . . .

To me, it comes down to truth in advertising - and that’s something that I do think is missing in wine. But that’s not just at the lower priced stuff but throughout. There are plenty of wineries out there who claim to do one thing on their websites but do something else - and many or may not own up to it if asked directly. Tis just the nature of our industry and the ‘leniency’ of our industry and the desire for consumers to want to ‘believe’ . . .


Just so you are clear Hardy and Katrina, I’m not saying consumers shouldn’t have the right to know what went into their wine. I’m just saying that “ingredient” labeling on the bottle is not the appropriate mechanism to convey that information for the few who really care. If you feel otherwise, then please be specific and tell me how it should be implemented. And yes, “what ifs” and enforcement need to be addressed. You can’t just say it’s a good idea and leave it at that. At some point the rubber needs to meet the road.