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Why should we give a grape about a label?



According to a Chicago Tribune article last week, wine labels are under attack. The U.S. Treasury Department - because it has nothing better to do - is seeking to definitively characterize what "reserve," "bottle-aged," "barrel fermented" and a host of other wine label descriptions actually mean.

The U.S. Treasure Department also wants to tightly control the definitions of those wine-descriptive terms and make wineries adhere to the new regulations. "A Treasury Department agency is considering proposals to tighten certain wine label definitions," Michael Doyle writes. "Dozens of wineries and wine industry organizations, and several foreign governments including Australia and New Zealand, have weighed in."

"'It's already time consuming to get labels approved, so the more restrictions they put on, that's an issue,'" said Laurie Kelsey of the Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "I would hope that whatever they do doesn't make it more complicated."

The thing that's particularly crazy about the proposals to make sense of wine-labeling semantics is that those in the industry don't want the restrictions and further, those who make their living in the wine biz don't understand why the government's so hell-bent on creating and enforcing them.

The California Association of Wine Grape Growers, for instance, said that there's no need for regulations. Moreover, New Zealand wine makers stated that consumers were not confused by labeling, and the Wine Institute added that there was no need to clarify labeling definitions.

As long as a wine label's claims are truthful, vintners around the world don't care. So should we, the consumers, give a grape?

My guess is that all this sudden, bureaucratic defining springs from the fact that everyone from Idaho to Virginia to Iowa is now in the wine-making game. No longer is it necessary for an Italian, fourth-generation grape grower to be behind a Bordello. All you need is a fallow cornfield and a rainy season and voila! You're a grape grower, a wine maker or both.

So follow the money. Could it be that, in defining exactly what "barrel select" means, that we can also attach a monetary value to that bottle - and the guy down the road, who may miss one of the five newly minted Treasury Department elements to meet "barrel select" criteria cannot charge as much for his bottle?

I don't know if all of this restrictive language is a good or a bad thing. I do know that older vines tend to produce richer, bolder grapes. I do know that those who've grown up in the business and who've lived through the bad years and the good ones, know a brilliant Barolo from a bargain basement bottle.

And I have had, on more than one occasion, a wine distributor laugh at me when I've asked her to define exactly what "Reserva" on a bottle means. They've explained that it's more often a simple marketing ploy and that that one word gets us to spend as much as 75 percent more for the bottle of the "plain stuff" sitting next to it - and that it's all the same wine.

So the jury's out on this wine issue. And though you might be tempted to ask me to put a cork in it and just drink wine already, I'll be interested to see how all this label regulation discussion plays out.

One Winning Wine Tasting

On Thursday, June 9, the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) hosts a Series Wine Tasting Event from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Cru-A Wine Bar in Lone Tree. The event is limited to C-level executives and business owners with a $5 million or greater annual revenue. Contact Louise Richardson at 800.919.0181 or lrichardson@acg.org for further information.

Weird Wine Trivia

Weird Wine Laws: They say that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, but really - can you be blamed for committing these infractions? You tell me.

• Anyone under the age of 21 who takes out household trash containing even a single empty alcohol beverage container can be charged with illegal possession of alcohol in Missouri.

• Although the French wine, "Fat Bastard," is now distributed in 22 states in the US, both Texas and Ohio have banned its sale within their borders.

• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BAFT) bans the word "refreshing" to describe any alcohol beverage.

The BAFT has obviously never enjoyed a crisp, icy beer on a sweltering summer's day.
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