Wine is unusual among foodstuffs in that it doesn’t contain ingredient labelling or lists. All that is required is the statement ‘contains sulfites’ if the total sulfur dioxide level exceeds 10 mg/litre (which is a level that can be achieved even when no sulfites are added; they are made by yeasts, too).
There have been calls for ingredients labelling to be made mandatory for wine. Some of these calls have come by more natural winegrowers who add very little or nothing at all to their wine: they think this would highlight to consumers just how many additives are used in the production of commercial wines.
For example, famed Californian winery Ridge decided that from the 2011 vintage, all additions would be indicated on the label, in a bid to differentiate their wines, made pretty naturally, from those that are more manipulated.
We believe that for anyone attempting to make fine wine, modern additives and invasive processing limit true quality and do not allow the distinctive character of a fine vineyard to determine the character of the wine.
Ridge is adding to its labels a list of actions and ingredients to demonstrate how little intervention is necessary to produce a fine, terroir-driven wine from distinctive fruit. Although an ingredient list is not required by the TTB, if a winery chooses to add a list of ingredients to its back label it must list ALL ingredients.
A large segment of the wine industry is resistant to these calls. They worry that if consumers were to see behind the scenes of commercial winemaking, and the realise sorts of manipulations and additions that take place, then they’d be horrified and there would be a backlash. Most consumers think wine is pretty natural. The commercial guys want to keep up this impression.
If you are a natural winegrower, you’d think that ingredient labelling would work in your interests. Horriified by the industrialization of wine, consumers would opt for the more naturally made bottles.
But be careful what you wish for. Ingredient labelling could put a lot of natural wine producers out of business. Why?
Because of the legislative burden it would impose. Think about I. If ingredient labelling were required by law, there would be attendant testing by registered laboratories. Even if you didn’t add anything to your wine, you’d have to send it off for testing. This would be for every bottling run. Now this isn’t a huge burden for a large commercial outfit. But for a small grower making limited quantities of a number of wines, this would be a huge cost.
Then there would be labelling requirements, and appropriate translations for each export market. You can see where all this is going: a new group of testing labs, compliance officers and label translators would spring up as a fresh set of parasites on the back of the hard work of the wine growers.
Would the public be any better off? UK retailer the Co-Operative already have ingredient labelling on the back of all their wines. I suspect most customers never read it, and even if they do, are just a little bemused by some of the winemaking additive names. Most consumers ignore back labels. To them, it is just wine, whether or not it has the ‘ingredients’ listed.
Be careful what you wish for.