A Case for Out-of-State AVAs

August 2015
by Conor McCormack

The current rule that forbids the use of AVAs on labels in non-contiguous states is an unnecessary hindrance to wineries and prevents consumers from knowing where a wine really came from. This law impacts us here at Brooklyn Winery quite a bit, so I wanted to explain the extent of the impact and make the case for changes in the rules to allow accurate and complete information on bottles of wine made from out-of-state grapes.

Brooklyn Winery is an urban winery in Brooklyn, N.Y., that sources grapes from premium vineyards around the country. Currently I bring in more than 100 tons of fruit per year, with 60% from New York state and the remaining 40% from the West Coast.

My goal is to provide our customers with a wide range of wine styles and varieties that showcase the distinct growing regions. Since we are not located within an AVA, I feel we are not diluting any growing area by bringing in grapes from around the country. Instead, we have an opportunity to showcase the best the United States has to offer. (I haven’t visited every region yet, but I will someday!)

For me, providing our customers with variety, vintage and AVA information on the label is extremely important and the best way to communicate what’s inside the bottle. One of the most important pieces of information is the vintage date. Under the current ruling from the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), in order to put the vintage date on the label, a state or smaller appellation must accompany it. Here lies the pickle: Since I am not in a “contiguous state” with my West Coast vineyard sources, I am not allowed to use the state as an appellation at all, but must use the term “American,” and can therefore not use a vintage date. Also, the designation “American” doesn’t convey the drastic differences in growing regions and therefore cheapens and dilutes the efforts of the diligent farmers who work the land in those areas.

The TTB website states the following regarding requirements for use of appellations on wine labels:

“The wine is fully finished (except for cellar treatment and/or blending, which does not alter the class and type of the wine), in the labeled appellation of origin EXCEPT THAT in the case of a state appellation of origin, the wine is fully finished (except for cellar treatment and/or blending, which does not alter the class and type of the wine) in the labeled state or an adjacent state.”

There is currently a proposed rule change by the TTB to allow wines that are fully finished in an adjacent state the ability to use an AVA, which is a step in the right direction, yet it does not help our situation.

I have read and understand the arguments that AVAs are trying to protect their reputations, but what is the difference if my winery is located in Arizona, which is contiguous to California, or New York? That part of the rule is absurd to me. Hopefully the recent interest and acquisition of vineyards in Washington state by some large California wineries (which won’t be able to apply the contiguous-state language) will push the conversation beyond these invisible borders to open up the path for accurate labeling regardless of where a state may sit on a map.

If it is a quality-control issue, then maybe a system should be put in place incorporating the annual submission of wines (regardless of whether the winery is located in said AVA or not) to a panel who determine typicity and quality, and who then determine if a wine is representative of said AVA and should be granted use on the label for that vintage.

I am not one for more regulations or hoops to jump through, but that makes more sense than the arbitrary contiguous or non-contiguous language currently used. (And it might force all the sub-par bulk wine with AVA labeling to step up the quality to meet the standards and maintain public perception!)

Since it is extremely important for us to showcase when and where the fruit we source is grown, we currently provide all the pertinent information on our labels, with the caveat that for our out-of-state grapes with variety, vintage and AVA we also must place, and abide by, the words “for sale in New York state only.” (This is a TTB exemption.) Since we are located in the largest wine market in the country, this is not as big a burden as it could be, but it has proved inhibitive. Where it does impact us most is in our direct-to-consumer business. In trying to build up our business, we are hindered by the fact that we can’t sell, then ship a large percentage of our wine across the state line.

Our 2012 Pinot Noir from Los Carneros recently won a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which has prompted some inquiries from customers nationwide. Alas, they will need to visit us in Brooklyn in order to get a case, as we cannot ship that wine outside of New York state.

Conor McCormack is the winemaker at Brooklyn Winery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Currently no comments posted for this article.