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ARE NUTRITIONAL LABELS COMING TO ALCOHOLIC DRINKS?

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This is the question posed in a recent Associated Press article by Mary Clare Jalonick. Here is the first part of that article:

”Alcoholic beverages soon could have nutritional labels like those on food packaging, but only if the producers want to put them there.

The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, said this past week that beer, wine and spirits companies can use labels that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving. Such package labels have never before been approved.

The labels are voluntary, so it will be up to beverage companies to decide whether to use them on their products.

The decision is a temporary, first step while the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau, or TTB, continues to consider final rules on alcohol labels. Rules proposed in 2007 would have made labels mandatory, but the agency never made the rules final.

The labeling regulation; issued May 28, comes after a decade of lobbying by hard liquor companies and consumer groups, with clearly different goals. The liquor companies want to advertise low calories and low carbohydrates in their products. Consumer groups want alcoholic drinks to have the same transparency as packaged foods, which are required to be labeled….”

I was not aware that such a thing was in the works. And, what a surprise to read this article in my local newspaper, The Santa Barbara News-Press, only a few days after posting my article ATTENTION ALL WINE CONSUMERS: WINE INGREDIENT LABELING IS HERE! (To read that article click here [2])

It was even more bizarre when I reflected on the posting of my first on line Underground article on wine fraud January 10, 2012 (To read that article click here [3]).  Shortly after that article appeared there was a breaking story on the arrest of a person accused of wine fraud. That was covered in an article entitled STOP THE WINE PRESS: THE FBI HAS MOVED TO STOP WINE FRAUD (To read that article click here [4])

Not that wine fraud and disclosure of ingredients and nutritional information in wine are the same. They are not. But, they all have one thing in common. And, that is the right of the consumer to have information to know what is in wine, whether the wine is authentic, and whether or not a wine has been subjected to practices that might alter the taste of the wine. The Underground has long advocated a crack down on wine fraud and that more information be made available to the consumer regarding what is in wine. Certain California wineries do provide very detailed information. These include Ridge Vineyards (To read my article on Ridge click here [5]) and Calera Wine Company (To read my article on Calera click here [6]).  All wineries should follow their example.

The ingredient labeling now used by Ridge is the best solution to provide full disclosure to the consumer as to what is in wine. Nutritional labeling might also be of some help, but not in the form being proposed. What is being proposed is suited to the marketing objectives of the beer and spirits companies. It has limited value to consumers who are seeking transparency in ingredients and it has very little value to wine consumers.

In fact, the article made this comment regarding wines: “The Wine Institute, which represents more than a thousand California wineries, said in a statement that it supports the ruling but ‘experience suggests that such information is not a key factor in consumer purchase decisions about wine.’’’ Furthermore, the article went on to quote a spokeswoman who said the group knows of no wine companies that plan to use the new labels. So much for that!

The fact is that most of the wineries (including wineries big and small) have no interest in providing more information to consumers about what is in wine. They are more interested in making and selling more wine and crafting those wines to meet the taste of their target consumer.  And, if the consumer really knew what was in every bottle of wine offered for sale, the buying decisions of consumers might adversely impact the sale of certain wines with additives, different grape varieties, manipulative winemaking practices, and higher alcohol and residual sugar levels.

So, at the end of the day, it is up to all of us wine consumers to continue to press for complete disclosure in wine labeling. Ask questions. Armed with knowledge about what is in the wine you are buying will make for better wines and enable all of us to be more informed. This will also allow all of us to better match what we are looking for in wine to drink with the food we eat. In my view, the answer to both is that natural is better!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson