Winemaking Techniques: Disclosure and Regulation


Friends of Snooth, not much of a blog here, but hoping to get some forum-like feedback.

Last week on the “eBob” bulletin board a question was posed regarding the marketing of wine.  More exact, the disclosure of winemaking techniques (with regards to its marketing).  The concern of the post was whether or not it is ethical to present a wine with all its romantic ideals coming from a particular place if the wine was manipulated to taste in such or such a way.
The style of a particular wine was not in question, but how the winemaker achieved his or her goal, and if it is appropriate, for educational purposes, to be discussing these practices if they are part of the process.

The Devil's Advocate debate was: does it really matter?

Will disclosure actually diminish one's perception of wine?  Will there be buyer's remorse or more importantly, will you not purchase a wine that used fish bladders for clarifying purposes or added water and acid during fermentation to achieve optimal results?  [Note: the addition of water and acid during fermentation not only can produce more of a wine, but also can lower potential alcohol levels and help produce a healthy fermentation if grapes are harvested, over-ripe, slightly dehydrated and out of balance.]

A similar, political example to this is: last year, you may recall the outcry against Brunello di Montalcino producers who were cutting their wines with juice from other regions of Italy to alter the wine's taste and/or production levels.  Remembrance of this issue can be found here.

Governments have gotten involved, wine has been confiscated and as a result consumers are stuck holding an empty bottle.  But has your taste and enjoyment of these wines changed?  Do we need Governments to get involved to protect against these indiscretions?  If you once enjoyed Brunello and stocked your cellar with some, do you now feel cheated? Are you heart-broken?  Are you smashing bottles of Brunello and dumping them down the drain?  Are you not buying Italian wine anymore because one is a reflection of many?

There are many questions to be asked about this debate of disclosure and many opinions to be heard.  On the subject of regulation, in the recent issue of Decanter an interview with Tom Black, a Tennessee businessman, mammoth collector and investor in Alto (the NYC restaurant) made a pinpoint argument against regulation.  He says, and I quote, “We scream free trade to the world but don't allow it.  I'd let people buy direct from the winery and have it shipped home.”

On the Parker boards regarding the above disclosure debate, the ugly comment was reared, “[you assume] the geeks that inhabit this forum resemble the normal wine consumers.”  I hope not to degrade anyone reading this by reposting that comment, but let's hear it – what are your thoughts about disclosure and/or regulation?

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,871

    Dan, I am of the opinion that the system is fine as it is.

    Wineries should not have to face mandatory labeling and/or disclosure of their practices. The main question is: do you like the wine or not. We buy wine (most of the time) to get pleasure out of the sensory perceptions that it gives us… not to analyze the physical or chemical processes that go into its production. Moreover, I have found that the vast majority of consumers do not care about production techniques or any other wine geekery that I try to explain to them.

    Additionally, I hope that we can keep the nutritional labeling police away. Having labels on wine would be a pain to get set up and be quite expensive (and this would be passed on to consumers), yet would yield little interesting information since most dry red wines or dry white wines are quite similar to each other.

    Apr 17, 2009 at 4:11 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,186

    Private fining techniques, etc., etc. are one thing, but percentages of grapes of a certain varietal or from specific locations so as to warrant area-specific labelings are another. What are the percentages required in California and other states to warrant labeling as a specific varietal? Or from a specific region or even vineyard? How about the EC? And Oz? And South Africa, Chile, Argentina et al.?

    I know in Japan only 51% is required. For just about anything. Wine can be described as being of Japanese origin if up to ‘no more than' 49% by volume comes from concentrate imported in barrels from overseas winemaking regions. The same for whisky by age. If it says it's a 12 year old it's OK if 49% of the volume is from *any* other age of whisky. Even fresh from the still. This is one reason why Macallan is so nasty now. Japan takes roughly 50% of its production, from one accounting I've heard, and the stuff sent here is blended differently from that allocated for the EC or the US or Oz. Would mean jail for someone if a Japanese shipment ended up back in Europe…

    Apr 18, 2009 at 7:24 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,573

    I don't think that people really want to know about egg albumen fining, but they do like the romantic and quasi-technical side of things - “the grapes were harvested on a cool autumnal morn with 26 brix” etc.

    More images and food pairings happen to be amongst the most frequently requested items from our users by the way.

    Apr 18, 2009 at 10:12 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,186

    So what are the regulations in California and the Pacific Northwest, any or all of the EC, the Antipodes, South Africa, and South America regarding the percentage of a specific grape that must go in to warrant a varietal labeling, or the percentage of any kind of grapes from a specific geographically delimited area that must go in to warrant a labeling from there?

    Apr 20, 2009 at 7:01 AM

  • Snooth User: h2w4
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    80553 156

    Here in CA 75% of a wine has to be a specific varietal to be called by that varietal's name (i.e. a Cabernet Sauvignon must be 75% Cabernet Sauvignon) that does not mean that it MUST be called a Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance there are many blends that are over the 75% level but which go by a Proprietary name.

    85% of a wine must come from where it says it came from (i.e. an Alexander Valley Merlot must be at least 75% Merlot and the bottle must contain 85% fruit from the Alexander Valley)

    95% of a wine must be from the stated vintage otherwise it is considered “non-vintage”

    Apr 20, 2009 at 7:48 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,186

    Thanks, h2w4. Certainly *way* better than the 51%-across-the-board regs. in Japan. Is the EC even more precise? Am curious about all the other regions I mention, too.

    Apr 20, 2009 at 9:12 AM

  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,871

    Dmcker, I think you'll find that Japan is about 30 years behind in this regard.

    Oh, I wish I had all of this information in one place, but here's a start!

    The magic number in the EU is 85% and many other countries are following that lead so as not to create wines that need different front labels for different export markets.

    GEOGRAPHICAL Reference:
    Wines sold in USA - 75% for county, state and country references
    85% for AVA references
    But there are myriad exceptions like CA and Washington state.
    Wines sold in RSA (aka South Africa) - 85% from a specified region
    Wines sold in Australia - 85% from a specified region

    VINTAGE reference:
    In the US, Europe, Australia and South Africa at least 85% from vintage stated, otherwise it is a non-vintage wine. Again, California requirements may be higher.

    VARIETAL reference:
    Europe: 85% of wine
    USA: 75% of wine (some old exceptions for NY state wines from native grapes - yum!)
    Australia: 85% of wine

    Apr 21, 2009 at 5:18 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,186

    Thanks, Philip and RB. I was hoping to get all this information together in one place-in this thread!

    And yes, Japan is more like a century or more behind in wine production capabilities. My thinking is that one major reason is the lack of a proper consciousness in ‘the industry' about winemaking requirements, which translates into lax legal requirements as well. Since apparently vitis vinifera has been in the country for more than 1500 years, thanks to ye olde silk road, there really is no excuse for the miserable state of wine in this country. So many other agricultural products are so damned tasty here.

    Legal requirements are also lax in the Sake area. I imagine that if California or other areas were to really put their shoulder into it, they could come up with some versions to shock the Old World of Sake like they did to wine back in 1976 (on a smaller scale, of course ;-) ).

    Apr 21, 2009 at 7:07 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,573

    Dmcker - it actually varies state by state, but 75% is the standard amount to be able to label it with the varietal.

    Some states have voluntarily imposed higher standards, for example I think its law that for a wine to state “California” on the label it needs to be 100% california, but in Washington (or maybe oregon) there's a voluntary consortium (ie, not legally binding) that only labels their wines varietally if they are over 95% of that varietal.

    I may be wrong on the exact details of this, so hoping someone can correctly define what I just said above

    Apr 21, 2009 at 9:13 AM

  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    It is my understanding that the US the individual states are responsible for the laws on the importation and transportation of wine and liquor across state lines but it is the federal government that is responsible for labeling issues.

    The wonderful organization is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau also know as the TTB and formerly known as the ATF. They actually have a great two page document that outlines the federal rules for labeling:

    Back to the original discussion. I think the average consumer would be shocked at how much manipulation actually goes on in wine making. By definition, every decision a wine maker makes is manipulating the end result. While I don't think disclosure is bad, I do think it will cause more confusion than good.

    Apr 21, 2009 at 11:27 AM

  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,448

    I thought I posted a reply to this already but it doesn't look like it was posted … if it shows twice, sorry for the dupes.


    It is my understanding that within the US individual states are responsible for the laws that govern the transportation of and import of liquor but it is the federal government that is responsible for labeling. This is why wineries have problems shipping to certain states.

    The wonderful government organization that is responsible for the labeling laws is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau or known as the TTB or more formerly know as the ATF. They have a great two page document that shows the legislation and gives you the specific codes if you want to find out more:

    However, back to the original discussion. I think the average wine consumer would be shocked to find out how much ‘manipulation' actually goes into the production of wine. In fact, I think it would cause some serious confusion. The fact is this, every decision a wine maker makes is some level of manipulation which ends up representing a style. Knowing the details does not necessarily make it better.

    Apr 21, 2009 at 11:36 AM

  • Snooth User: lamarr
    Hand of Snooth
    146169 280

    I am not sure whether I believe technique labeling should be mandatory, but I wish more wineries would advertise their use of “natural” techniques, ones not involving tampering such as reverse osmosis, tannin extracts, coloring agents, etc. On the other hand, “natural” would have to be distinctly defined to avoid loopholes currently seen in the food supply's use of the term “organic.” When it comes to poultry at least, “organic”, “cage-free”, and “range-fed” all mean drastically different things, with little consistency among different producers/suppliers (read Michael Pollan's ‘Omnivore's Dilemma').

    However, I believe a natural wine movement can flourish without government intervention, at least among educated drinkers. Natural producers simply need the right platform/advertising within the wine world to show why their wines are superior (if indeed they are). While those who can get by on 2-Buck Chuck and Barefoot may never taste the difference, natural wines that promote their enhanced conveyance of terroir should be able to hold their own in the market.

    I highly recommend Alice Feiring's “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.” She is essentially the Michael Pollan of the wine world, advocating for a return to traditional techniques in favor of mass-produced, generic wines. It's a fun read and has changed the way I think about wine.

    Apr 24, 2009 at 9:59 AM

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