Wine producers know there are countless factors that go into producing a good wine. There’s the quality of the grapes, the environment they’re grown in and how the wine is ultimately being produced. There’s also a wide variety of storage choices – barrels or tanks? These variables and so many more are what makes each and every wine unique.
When it comes to selling the final product, there are just as many variables. What kind of bottle shape do you want to use? What color? Real cork, synthetic cork or a screw cap? What color do you want your foil covering to be?
Then there’s the wine’s label itself. As a producer, this is your best and most important opportunity to draw attention to and describe your wine, particularly to those who have never tried it before. Over the past several years, you’ve likely noticed the effort that goes into wine labels and marketing – particularly in America.
There’s Marilyn Merlot, a wine that features a label with a very seductive-looking Marilyn Monroe on the front. There’s Fat Bastard with a slumping rhinoceros. There’s even a shiraz from Australia that looks like an airplane ticket.
At Zin Valle Vineyards, we enjoy having fun with some of our labels, too. Our Man’s Best Friend Merlot features a new dog each year after a live auction, and the proceeds benefit the Humane Society of El Paso. Animals and even birds and frogs are prolific on labels today.
What you might not know or realize when you are looking at a wine label is that there is a long list of strict laws that govern what must appear on a bottle and what cannot.
Before they’re slapped on the bottle, wine labels must be submitted to the proper federal and state regulation agencies, where they are carefully scrutinized and frequently sent back to the maker for changes to be made. For instance, any labels containing offensive or sexually graphic depictions will frequently be rejected.
As far as what must show up on a wine bottle, you’re already likely familiar with the pregnancy warning. Here are some other rules about what must appear on a wine label in America:
-Brand or producer name. This is chosen by the owner. In our case, it is Zin Valle Vineyards.
-Place of origin. The geographical growing area of the grapes is usually on the label. If a state’s name is used on the label, all of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown within that state. If a county name is used, just 75 percent of the grapes used need to come from there.
-To use an AVA on the label, which is a federally approved viticulture area, 85 percent of the grapes used must come from the area. You may even find the specific vineyard designated in this part of the label.
For example, Zin Valle wines are frequently labeled as coming from the Mesilla Valley Appellation, which runs from El Paso through Las Cruces.
-Type of wine. Varietals such as pinot noir, zinfandel, etc. must be made from at least 75 percent of the grape variety named.
-Vintage. This is the year the grapes were grown and harvested. Ninety-five percent of the grapes must have been harvested in the year used as the vintage.
-Alcohol content. If a wine exceeds 14 percent alcohol, it must be printed on the label. Wines designated as table wines, which contain 7 to 14 percent alcohol, don’t have to put their alcohol content on the label, but most wineries do anyway as consumers are always interested in this information.
-Sulfite statement, Because of a rare allergy, federal law requires this statement that wine contains sulfites. This rule has remained controversial in the industry.
-The size of the container must also be displayed. The usual wine bottle is 750 milliliters.
While it is not in effect yet, there is even a movement to include the caloric count in the wine. Organically farmed or made wines carry their own designation as well. Is this all too much information? Is it simply easier to know what varietal you enjoy and what country it is from? Enjoy your next 750 milliliter bottle of Sonoma Coast, 14 percent, unfiltered, organically grown pinot noir!
Vic Poulos, owner Zin Valle Vineyards