Congratulations, you just purchased a nice $85 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and you are looking forward to drinking that 100% Cabernet wine. Well, actually, that might not be the case.
According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) only 75% of a varietal indicated on the label has to be in the bottle. The other 25% may be most any wine that the winemaker chooses to add to the main varietal. (Vintners might blend other wines to modify the flavor due to the growing conditions that year, to add structure or tannin to the wine, or to adjust the balance.)
The label on the bottle might also indicate that the wine is from the Arroyo Grande Valley (or any other) Viticulture Area.
That means all of the grapes, right? Again, not actually. If the Viticulture Area is specified, at least 85% of those grapes must have been grown there.
A particular vintage (for example 2016) on the bottle indicates that at least 85% of those grapes were harvested in that year. Now, if the appellation and a vintage year are specified, 95% of those grapes must have been harvested in the year indicated.
How about trying one more – the “single vineyard” designation. 100%? No. However, a minimum of 95% of the grapes must be from that vineyard.
So, what other descriptions and percentages should you be aware of? Here is a very “short list”:
OK, is ANYTHING really 100% of what is indicated? The answer is definitely YES, there are some!
Perhaps this is a bit confusing, but none of this really detracts from the quality of the wine. Enjoy what you are drinking, regardless of the “percentages” you encounter!
(Disclaimer – The above percentages apply to the U.S. and California requirements. Foreign wines, and wines from other states, may have different guidelines.)
Occasionally in the Tasting Room I find myself using a term or two that could probably use some definition. We have so many industry-unique words and abbreviations that sometimes I forget not everyone has the same level of understanding of those words.
I’ve focused on two terms below that come up daily in our discussions with winery guests.
The first is AVA, which stands for “American Viticulture Area”.
American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are federally recognized and designated grape growing regions that are able to demonstrate distinctive growing conditions that are not present in neighboring regions. While AVA’s can be defined by county or state boundaries, they must demonstrate their ability to influence grapes produced in the designated area by differences in climate and soil. The boundaries of AVAs are defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the United States Department of the Treasury.
Surprisingly, the first AVA in the United States was the Augusta AVA surrounding the area around the town of Augusta, Missouri, gaining the status on June 20th, 1980. Napa Valley was second 8 months later, which was granted its approval on February 27th, 1981.
As of June 2018, there were 242 AVAs in the United States. California has the highest number of AVA’s with 139. Talley owns vineyards in two AVAs –
“Arroyo Grande Valley AVA”: Rincon (including East Rincon), Rosemary’s, Monte Sereno, and Las Ventanas; and,
“Edna Valley AVA”: Stone Corral and Oliver’s.
“Estate Bottled” wines
Talley’s “Estate Bottled” Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two of our most popular wines. But what makes them “Estate”? According to Tax & Trade Bureau regulations, “Estate Bottled” means that 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery (even if they're actually owned by someone else) which must be located in a viticultural area.
The wine is made entirely on the winery's property—it doesn't ever leave the property during fermentation, aging, or bottling, so the winery must crush and ferment the grapes and finish, age, and bottle the wine in a continuous process on their premises. The winery and vineyards don't have to be contiguous, but they have to be located in the same viticultural area.
So, for Talley, our 2016 Estate Chardonnay comes from all four of our vineyards in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA, and our 2016 Estate Pinot Noir comes from two of our vineyards in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA - Rincon and Rosemary’s, and all of our processing is in the same AVA, thus making them both truly “Estate Bottled” wines!
If we use any terms in the tasting room that you have a question on please ask, and we’d be happy to define them for you!
(Several references were used for this blog, including – Amanda Ashley in “Winefrog”, “Wikipedia”, “Wine Spectator” and documents from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau.)
Last week I was serving a delightful couple from Alabama who were vacationing on the Central Coast. They were visiting Talley due to a recommendation from friends to try our excellent wines, and they just HAD to stop in. They loved our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs so much they wanted to ship a case of wine to their home in Alabama so they could share it with their wine-appreciating neighbors. Unfortunately, when I checked our list of state alcohol laws I discovered that we could not ship into Alabama. They were disappointed, and had to settle for purchasing two bottles that they could safely put into their checked baggage on the fight home.
Although I had experienced this before, this incident interested me to investigate further why certain states allowed unlimited shipments to their residents, and others did not. Come to find out, the after-effects of Prohibition are still with us today.
Prohibition in the United States was enacted through the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (effective on January 17, 1920), and effectively established the prohibition of intoxicating liquors in the United States by declaring the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors (though not the consumption or private possession) illegal. There were certain intoxicating liquors excluded, for example, those liquors used for medical and religious purposes. Forty six states ratified the amendment, with Connecticut and Rhode Island rejecting it.
The Amendment was in effect for the following 13 years. It was repealed in 1933 by ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, and essentially shifted regulation of the production, sales and distribution of alcohol from the federal government to the states. So, how does that affect our current shipping policies? The federal government, in returning the control of alcohol distribution to the individual states, opened the door for 50 different thoughts on how alcohol distribution should be controlled, and as a result, we have 50 different regulations to deal with. Currently seven states prohibit wine shipments to residents: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Utah.
While some states specifically prohibit the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers, some have statutory provisions that require orders to be processed and shipped through licensed wholesalers. Still others have regulations that allow wine to be shipped into the state, but only when purchased by the customer on-site at the winery. (So you can ship to yourself, ONLY if you are physically in the winery when you place that order you are shipping from.)
Also, most states have some limit to the amount of wine you can have shipped to consumers within a year – ranging from two cases per calendar year (Minnesota and Missouri), increasing to “unlimited” (California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Washington). My favorite state’s restriction is Alaska, which limits the quantity to “a reasonable amount”! Now, THAT’S not ambiguous at all!
The individual states’ regulation control sometimes have several groups of interest involved. For example, many states have liquor control boards that forbid or restrict retailers to offer anything but what the state brings in. Middleman wholesalers have become monopolies in these states and the only wines you can buy are the wines they carry.
Generally, the cost of alcohol based goods in state run markets are going to be much higher in cost due to the amount of taxation they endure. There are benefits in having aggressive laws from a state perspective, as the state Legislature can help protect its business’s (such as Distributors) and make sure that the taxes are generating money for the state.
Daniel Posner, president of the National Association of Wine Retailers, and owner of “Grapes the Wine Company”, commented - “As in anything in business, this is pure greed. There are very few industries that are so regulated. We have an authority that looks over us, that makes sure we pay our bills on time. We have a very rigid system in place, state by state,” he said. “These wholesalers, they hold all the cards.”
Wholesalers on the other hand, suggest that the need to enforce the interstate laws is to protect the public from under-aged drinking and fraud. Craig Wolf, president and chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, expressed that “The tight laws will keep states honest and held accountable for their commerce, whereas before “allowing retailers to sell out of state created a scenario for an unregulated system.”
Things are changing, albeit slowly. For example, just a few months ago, Oklahoma lifted their prohibition to incoming wine shipments direct to consumers, and now only requires a Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit to do so.
Bottom line? Prohibition is gone, but the individual state imposed carry-over controls are not. So keep enjoying wines in our tasting room, and, if you like what you are tasting and want to ship some home, keep your fingers crossed that you live in a state where that’s possible.
Would you like to see winery shipments open up in your state? You might want to check out this organization:
Free the Grapes! is a national, grassroots coalition of consumers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers.