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What Changes are Allowed on an Approved Wine Label Without Obtaining a New Certificate of Label Approval (COLA)?

The TTB recently posted some very helpful guidelines pertaining to approved wine labels and changing approved wine labels without obtaining additional approval from the TTB. For a wine to be sold legally in the United States, the label must be pre-approved by the TTB through a process called Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”). Generally speaking, every bottle of wine is required to have a COLA under 27 C.F.R. 4.50. Obtaining a COLA from the TTB requires a wine producer to submit the label of the wine to the TTB, which will either approve or deny the label according to its regulations. Once a COLA is obtained, the holder of the certificate can bottle and remove or import the wine that bears the label shown on the COLA.

While every wine produced by a winery or producer must have its own COLA, there are certain changes to a wine label that can be made without re-applying for another COLA. Because the COLA application process can often be time consuming, it is important for a producer of wine (or even an attorney practicing in the field) to know and understand the specific types of changes that are allowed for a previously approved wine label. The TTB recently posted some informative guidelines that specifically outline permissible changes to wine labels that do not require a new COLA. The summarized version, Allowable Changes to Approved Labels, includes examples of allowable changes specific to the provided sample wine labels and a complete list of allowable revisions to approved labels. A more detailed guideline is viewable at Updated Certificate of Label Approval Application Form Expands List of Allowable Changes (dated July 12, 2012) or, in chart form, Complete List of Allowable Revisions To Approved Labels. (The chart also contains the allowable changes on approved labels for malt beverages and distilled spirits.)

The TTB specifically notes that, once a label has been approved, changes must comply with 27 CFR parts 4,  57 and 16, and “any other applicable provision of law or regulation, including, but not limited to, the conditions described in the “Comments” section of the chart below.” (See Complete List of Allowable Revisions To Approved Labels.)

For more information on wine or alcohol law, labeling, or advertising, please contact Lindsey Zahn.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for general information purposes only, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

Lindsey A. Zahn


Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Bill Earle August 20, 2012, 2:34 PM

    TTB’s streamlining of the COLA process is the result of an effort by NABI and other trade associations begun last year. TTB opened the door to more flexibility as a way to reduce the volume of labels, 145,000 last year. We welcome these changes since imported wines have longer routes to market and communicating US federal requirements back to a supplier, working in a different language can be challenging. NABI members contributed over six pages of recommendations toward this streamlining effort.
    We continue to work with TTB as these changes play out. For example we encourage collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection to assure that wine label changes not reflected in the approved COLA don’t present questions when clearing Customs.
    Thanks for this reflection on changes in the COLA process!


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