Printer Friendly

Guidance for assessing whether a new label approval is necessary.

Wine labels are an ever-popular topic in the world of compliance. In my most recent column (see "Decoding wine label language" in the Winter 2013 issue of Practical Winery & Vineyard Journal) I focused on the various items that appear on labels from a Trade & Tax Bureau (TTB) regulatory standpoint.

I would like to follow up and cover another common label-related activity that wineries, wine cellars and wine importers encounter in compliance: the process of applying for federal label approval.

These approvals are behind that very common acronym used to refer to them in the industry: COLA (certificate of label approval). The label approval or COLA is a required step that comes at either the beginning or the end of a wine's life. The beginning timing applies in the case of wines that are imported into the U.S., while the end timing applies for wines that are bottled in U.S. facilities.

Prior to 2002, all label approvals were submitted via snail mail, which involved completing the TTB paper form in duplicate on legal size paper and sending it in to the TTB offices in Washington, D.C., and waiting several weeks (at least) to receive a response. All in all it was a fairly cumbersome and time-consuming process. The TTB has made great strides to address both of these issues for the wine producer and TTB procedures.

In mid-2003, TTB released its electronic filing system, COLAs online. This system meant no more paper forms and no more snail mail. The percentage of label approvals they receive via this electronic system is 90% of the total applications. In 2012, the TTB received more than 180,000 label approval submissions.

TIB expands list of allowable revisions to approved labels

Page three of the original label approval paper form contained a list of changes that could be made to wine labels with previously approved COLAs on file.

In July 2012 the TTB announced that it had updated this list of allowable changes. This meant if the changes you made to your label fell within their updated list there would be no need to submit for a new label approval. This expanded list of allowable changes would be a time saver for wineries and TTB specialists tasked with reviewing and approving labels.

A few new allowable revisions announced in the July 2012 update surprised many of us who have dealt directly with TTB compliance over the years. They were surprising because they are all areas that the TTB had previously indicated were distinctive differences in a wine's details, hence their requirement for a new label approval.

Three examples of new allowable changes to label approvals

Alcohol content: Prior to the TTB's allowable revision updates, if you had an existing label approval for a wine with an alcohol level in the table wine tax dass (alcohol content between 7% and 14%), and in the next year the wine for that bottling had an alcohol level of 14.7%, which is a separate tax class, you were required to change the alcohol content on your label and submit another label approval to cover that wine. Now the TTB has made this an allowable change.

Keep in mind that the class and type must remain the same as what was listed on the previously approved label. The class and type is a required wine label item, and varietal names are the most common example of these.

Change in the optional "produced by" or "made by" statement: These phrases are optional terms that can be used in the required name and address statement on your wine label. It typically appears on the back label. If you use either of the terms "produced" or "made," they have the same TTB-defined definition. At least 75% of the wine must have completed fermentation at the site where the wine is bottled.

The TTB updated its allowable revisions for this item, now allowing wineries to change "produced" or "made" to one of the other optional statements (such as vinted, cellared or blended). This only applies to changing your labels from "produced" or "made" to the other optional statements. In other words, if you decide to change a previously approved label from "cellared and bottled by" to "produced and bottled by," then you need to submit for a new label approval.

Changes in use of vintage date: Prior to this update in allowable revisions, the TTB did not require wineries to submit a new label approval if the only thing different was the vintage. Now, with this update, the TTB is also allowing addition or deletion of a vintage on a label as well as simply updating it from the previous year. If a previously approved label either did or did not list a vintage, and the producer decided to do the opposite on the label for the next year's bottling, then a new label approval would not be required.

Steps to follow to assess whether or not a new COLA is necessary

In the event that you are coming up on bottling a wine that your winery bottles each year, here is a series of steps to follow to determine whether or not a new label approval needs to be submitted.

Step one: Locate your new label image files (full set of front and back) and the most recent COLA for that wine.

Step two: View each set of labels side by side to determine the changes between the COLA already on file and your new label files. Make a list of each of the changes. Follow this step for each label individually, comparing the previous front label to the current front version and do the same for the back label.

Step three: Compare each item on your list of changes to the TIB's updated list of allowable revisions to determine whether or not you will need to submit a new label approval.

Impacts related to state-to-state shipping

The TTB is not the only government agency that requires label approvals as part of its regulatory activities. At the state level, many wineries that ship to consumers or distributors in other states are also required to submit some form of label registration, and part of that label registration requires a copy of the federal label approval for that wine.

I wondered whether any of the state agencies would have a conflict with these newest updates from the TTB in relation to their own state requirements. To verify whether or not this was the case I contacted Sarah Werner, manager of research at ShipCompliant in Boulder, Colo.

Werner notes that wineries that have determined their label changes fall within the range of the TTB's most recently updated list should not need to get further COLA approval in order to register their new labels with the states. "The majority of states that previously required new or revised registrations for new vintages, wine class changes, alcohol by volume changes, etc., continue to require those registrations. We are not aware of any states at this time that have indicated they require wineries to apply for additional federal label approvals that would otherwise not have been required by the TTB."


One final item worth mentioning on this topic is that as far as qualifying for the use of each of these label items, that comes under the closest scrutiny in the event of an on-site TTB audit. If you list an alcohol content of 13.5%, "produced and bottled by" and a vintage of 2012 on your wine label, you would be required to show documentation in your winemaking records that clearly indicates the wine meets the minimum percentage requirements or other regulated qualifications for using those regulated items.

To see a complete summary of the TTB's list of allowable revisions, visit shtml.

by Ann Reynolds, Wine Compliance Alliance

Ann Reynolds is a wine compliance educator, author and speaker with 20 years of experience in the wine industry. She offers classes in many areas of wine compliance at Napa Valley College, Sonoma State University and UC Davis Extension. Her business provides wineries with on-site trainings and system development. She can be contacted at

Caption: Left: Example of previously approved label. Right: New label with allowable alcohol content change in a different tax class.

Caption: Left: Example of previously approved label. Right: New label with allowable optional statement change.

Caption: Left: Example of previously approved label. Right: New label with allowable vintage change.
COPYRIGHT 2013 Wines & Vines
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Comment:Guidance for assessing whether a new label approval is necessary.(COMPLIANCE COUNSELING)
Author:Reynolds, Ann
Publication:Wines & Vines
Date:Jun 1, 2013
Previous Article:How much microbiology do winery personnel need?
Next Article:Why is Ridge Vineyards adding ingredients to its back labels?

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters