The TTB recently announced it will begin rulemaking on mandatory ingredient labeling for the alcohol industry. The TTB’s decision was influenced when a group of organizations sued the TTB because it has not acted on a 2003 petition, requesting liquor producers provide similar labeling requirements as food producers. The suit focuses on labeling requirements such as ingredient listings and calories.
Wine is not a bag of Cheetos
The proponents of TTB labeling changes, desire to put wine or spirits on the same footing as other food. The position is that if a bag of Cheetos has nutritional transparency, then why can’t we have it with wine!
The answer is, wine is not a bag of Cheetos!
Unlike a bag of Cheetos, which rarely changes in ingredients and flavor, wine is ever evolving and constantly changing. To illustrate, we don’t see a vintage Cheetos 1987 or a vintage Cheetos 2022. Wine must be tinkered with and what worked last year for ingredient composition, may not work this year. In fact, many wineries make changes to their ingredients mix and recipes right up to the moment before vinting. Further, the wine in the bottle changes overtime and effects the makeup of the product, there is no such thing as a comparable Cheetos effect!
Although maintaining ingredient listings may be easier for a big winery with great resources, it may take resources that the small winery doesn’t have and leaves the small winery in a potentially legally vulnerable position.
The bottle is valuable real estate
There is arguably no packaging that is more crucial to the product than the bottle design is to wine. In a bag of Cheetos, sure the design is important, but it is different than wine. Nobody cares where Cheetos were made or vinted or cellared, nor do consumers look to the label to provide them the story of the brand. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw someone in a store closely looking at the bag of Cheetos?
The fact is, the bottle is valuable real estate for the wine producer, requiring information on the bottle that takes away the customer’s focus hurts the winery. Even if ingredients listed can be done through QR Codes instead of being physically on the bottle, the QR Code still takes up valuable real estate.
Let the Class Action Lawsuits Begin
What this really is about is opening the floodgates to class action lawsuits against producers. With the listed ingredients and the complexities that come with making wine, it will be harder to guarantee 100% accuracy of ingredients.
To illustrate, egg whites are used by wineries in the fining process to clarify wine. Egg whites work to tame big red wines into a softer wine. The eggs are not considered part of the final product, but does that mean they are not an ingredient? There is legal ambiguity in this answer.
Or let us say a small winery gets its vintage out and makes changes at the last moment. It does not have the resources to measure with nearly 100% accuracy in such a short time, calories or ingredients. If someone tests the product a year later and shows that the product is inaccurate about ingredient listing or calorie count, even by a small amount, then the small producer is open to a class action claim.
If you think being off by a small amount does not make a company vulnerable in a class action lawsuit, think again. Portillo’s fast food restaurant sold a 12 ounce beer that class action lawyers claimed held 10.6 ounces, the difference of 1.4 ounces subject Portillo’s to a lawsuit
There are many complexities behind the issue of TTB labeling. Is transparency good, most would say yes, but like anything else there are caveats to some things. The special nature in which a wine is produced and how it is marketed, make it a different animal than other consumer goods. Our laws acknowledge this, as alcohol and not food, as a consumer good is governed by its own Constitutional Amendment.
Putting alcohol labeling on par with food labeling is making a comparable that may not meet legal reality. It’s not apples to apples, as food and liquor are legally not the same!
In the end, the floodgates will open to class action lawsuits and the liquor industry will face the plethora of class action lawsuits that the food industry faces.