This article stems from a tip sent in by Professor Chris Buccafusco, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. Professor Buccafusco lectured about geographical indications in relation to the wine industry. I posted his video a few months ago, which is a must-view for anyone interested in wine and law. It is available at War on Terroir: Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Recently, Wine Spectator featured an article on the Australian winery Schild Estate, a family-owned winery in the Barossa Valley of Australia. (See Bait and Switch?) Schild Estate produced a 2008 Shiraz that was awarded at one of the Top 10 Wines of the Year in 2010 by Wine Spectator. Shortly thereafter, the family-owned winery found itself with limited supply of the 2008 Shiraz and increasing demand for the bouquet. Its solution? To purchase, blend, and bottle additional wine under the same 2008 Shiraz label from other growers. Apparently, the winery sought an additional 5,000 cases of the 2008 Shiraz, due to the high demand, and sold it to consumers under the same label as the original bottling — without signifying the difference or making distinction between the two bottlings — and still list the American importer on the bottle. (After reporters contacted Schild Estate, the “winery offered to affix an extra label to the recent bottlings, identifying them as a second blend . . . There is an additional way to tell if it’s an old or new bottling. A code engraved on the bottle indicates the bottling date.”)
The Wine Spectator article muses that, whereas this is technically legal under Australian wine laws and regulations, so long as the label properly designates the type and origin of the wines, the actions pursued by Schild Estate create uncertainty as to “the winery’s integrity and philosophical issues of what defines a wine’s identity.” Great point. More so, this practice seems to be standard for lower-priced or commodity wines, but raises skepticism for wines like the 2008 Shiraz that established high significance within the wine industry and received prestigious awards.
Furthermore, this raises an issue of legal deception. Is it deceptive for a wine producer, after receiving such high praise and awards that distinguishes a particular vintage, to bottle subsequent wine under the same acclaimed label that contains or is composed of grapes not grown from its own vineyard, not to mention grapes absent from the first bottling when the wine received such status? This is particularly questionable for a product that received such strong press, especially considering that many consumers who bought the subsequent bottles may have reasonably relied on the prestige of the original bottling.
What do you think?
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended as legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.