FINAL COMMENTS TO TTB NOTICE 160 DUE ON WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 7TH – WE ARE ASKING THE TTB TO EXTEND THE COMMENT PERIOD AGAIN TO ALLOW FOR INDUSTRY NEGOTIATION AND ALIGNMENT OF INTERESTS

As the TTB’s 90-day extension to submit comments on the proposed rule changes governing the use of label exemptions for wine sold intra-state comes to a close, there is only one thing that has been settled.  TTB Notice 160 is very controversial.

The original proposal responded to the concerns of wineries in various AVA regions that when grapes from those regions are being sold to wineries outside of the state the resulting wine could then be labeled under the current “in-state sale only” exemption with AVA identifying information; contrary to non-exempt federal AVA labeling requirements mandating that the wine bearing an AVA be produced almost entirely within the AVA. 

The bottom line is that under Notice 160, the exemption would be no longer available and the out of state wineries that buy the grapes from AVA areas would not be permitted to identify on their labels where the wine grapes used in their wine came from.  This would both depress the price and desirability of wine grapes sourced from growers in areas that carry an AVA designation, and result in non-California wineries using out of state grapes from AVA designated areas being unable to tell consumers where their grapes originated.

We extensively summarized the various points of view in our August 15, 2016 blog post before the last extension of the TTB comment period.  The current extension for comments period expires on December 7, 2016 and we are sending this blog to the TTB as a comment. 

What we are asking for is another extension to allow time for the industry to attempt to arrive at a negotiated consensus.  If you agree with us, please copy the blog and email it to the TTB as an endorsed comment.  Here is the Notice as published in the Federal Register with filing instructions.

The purpose in asking for another extension is to permit the different affected participants (wineries and growers) time to arrive at a compromise that both permits the sale of the fruit, and satisfies the consumers right to know where the grapes in their wine came from. Without a compromise one possible outcome is First Amendment litigation that could undermine the entire AVA system.  Another outcome could be widespread scoffing at the AVA system through moving the identifying information that should be on the label on-line.

Is a compromise possible?  The Napa Valley Vintners have been circulating a white paper laying out a possible compromise through a mechanism they called “Grape Source Information” on the back label of a wine. The grape source information could not use the AVA of the area from which the grapes emanated but could use the address of the vineyard from which the fruit came. It is yet to be seen whether or not NVV will file this proposal with the TTB, as their first comment filed in August simply calls for the proposed changes to be approved.  Regardless, this is a very promising approach. However, in its current form (with identification limited to counties) it doesn’t completely accomplish the goal because (among other address related identification issues) viticultural areas (such as Lodi) are often located in different counties or in counties that are not that well known to consumers. 

However it is a framework for compromise and, as such, we believe that the discussions should be continued.

We urge the TTB to keep the comment period open for at least another 90 days.