Can TTB Keep Up With Wine Industry?
Massive increases in wineries and production put pressure on the bureau
As a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the bureau issues statistical wine reports. The most recent, published May 25, provides some stunning figures from March 2011 with comparisons with the same month in 2010, and cumulative year totals.
• Still wine production for March 2011: 13,858,061 gallons; March 2010: 12,872,285 gallons.
• Current year to date as of March 2011: 79,060,588 gallons; March 2010: 62,728,537 gallons.
These wines are not just sitting in the bonded wineries, either: Taxable withdrawals (from bond) increased from 38 million gallons in March 2010 to almost 43 million gallons this year.
Both bonded and virtual wineries are responsible for these encouraging figures. WinesVinesDATA recorded 163 new bonded wineries and 81 virtual wineries in North America during 2011.
Recently the TTB introduced an updated version of its online Certificate of Label Approval form, incorporating minor changes to data collection on the COLA required for every wine label. An additional change is scheduled for December; paper versions of the COLA form are not impacted, and the bureau will accept existing paper applications through 2011.
Even with streamlined, online applications, the TTB is hard-pressed to keep up with an ever-increasing deluge of COLAS: As of June 17, 76,889 have poured in since the beginning of 2011. The bureau reports: “Processing Time for Label Applications Permitted by Regulation as Outlined in 27 CFR 13.21(b): average 90 days.” This bottleneck makes planning ahead for label changes all the more urgent for wineries: See Wines & Vines’ May issue for time-saving tips.
WineAmerica sent a news release to members and media last week announcing the change. The national wine industry lobby also included an update of TTB’s recent rule changes regarding grape variety names, an abbreviated but more user-friendly version of the bureau’s boilerplate regulation.
The new rule has not officially been adopted yet. It includes not only previously acceptable winegrape varieties but also a list of “grape names administratively approved pending rulemaking.” Although this may appear to be a gray area, many wineries have been using these varieties on labels for some time, notably vinifera grapes Grenache Blanc, Nero d’Avola, Grüner Veltliner and Vermentino and hybrids Corot Noir, Marquette, Frontenac and Noiret.
Wines labeled as varietals must maintain the required 75% of the named grape; with the new COLA form, the TTB will tweak reporting of any additional varieties that are named on the labels, e.g. Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon/Chenin Blanc.
According to WineAmerica: “Section 4.23(c) provides exceptions from the 75% rule. Wine made from any Vitis labrusca variety may use the name of the grape on the label if 51% or more of the wine is made from the named grape and the entire qualifying percentage of the named grape is grown in the labeled appellation of origin.
A curious exception follows: Per WineAmerica, “Wine made from any grape variety that the appropriate TTB officer finds to be too strongly flavored (emphasis added) at the 75% minimum may be labeled with the grape variety” if 51% or more of the wine is made from the named grape and the qualifying percentage was grown in the appellation.
Michael Kaiser, WineAmerica director of communication and regulatory affairs, told Wines & Vines that this regulation is rarely if ever applied. “I’ve never heard of it—ever,” he said. He suggested this might occur if a TTB auditor sampled wine and felt it was being misrepresented, perhaps because characteristics of a blending wine predominated. He nominated the distinctly flavored Muscadine grapes as the most likely candidates for such a decision.