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What are the legalities of labelling a wine's origin and vintage year?

What are the legalities of labelling a wine's origin and vintage year?

wine labels "Paul, What are the legalities regarding the labeling of wine?"
– B.K., Lomita, CA

Today's wine labels are a blend of legalities, design and occasionally an indication of quality. In addition to the brand, the label must carry either a national e.g., Product of France, regional e.g., California, generic e.g., Rose, or varietal e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon.

A label stating "California Cabernet Sauvignon" or "Australian Chardonnay" means the grapes could have come from anyplace within the stated area and are probably a blend from several areas. "Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon" or "Coonawarra Chardonnay" means that at least 95% of the grapes came from this region. Since the vintner is proud of the quality from this region, it is so stated on the label. Another label might read, "Chardonnay, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County." In this case, the vintner has isolated a specific microclimate within a region considered to be of superior quality. Some wineries are cutting this even finer by including the name of a single vineyard. These wines are at least 95% from the area, but usually 100%.

"Grown, Produced and Bottled" means that the winery grew the grapes, made the wine and bottled it. Another term meaning the same thing, is "Estate Bottled." "Produced and Bottled" means that the winery did not necessarily grow the grapes, but they did make at least 75% of the wine in the bottle (in practice 100%), and bottled it at the winery. The stated alcohol level in the U.S. may vary by up to 1.5%, plus or minus. Thus, a wine labeled 12% might be either 13.5% or 10.5% by actual measurement. Most other countries don't have specific laws on this point.

To carry a vintage date, a wine must be 95% from the year stated. Since the quality of vintages varies from year to year in every wine growing region, this can be important information. The vintage date refers only to the year the grapes were harvested, and has nothing to do with when it was bottled or released. Most new world wines are named by the varietal, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Riesling. Many wineries use the "Reserve" designation to delineate a wine they feel is superior to their norm. Outside of Italy and Spain, this term has no legal definition in any country. Its use is at the discretion of the winery.