On June 10, 2013, TTB published a final rule in the Federal Register amending the mandatory label information requirements for wine labels. The final rule allows the alcohol by volume (“ABV”) percentage to appear on other labels affixed to a wine container without appearing on the brand label. Previously, the regulations for wine labels required the ABV to appear on the wine’s brand label (along with other required elements, such as the class/type and brand name). See 21 CFR § 4.32. This change will allow for greater flexibility in wine labeling and is effective starting August 9, 2013. Note that this change currently only applies to wine labels.
This alteration in labeling also complies with the Agreement on Requirements for Wine Labeling by the World Wide Trade Group (“WWTG”), which was signed in Canberra, Australia on January 23, 2007 and entered into force on July 1, 2010. The WWTG established a wine labeling agreement to promote and facilitate the international trade of wine with the hopes of “minimiz[ing] unnecessary labeling-related trade barriers.” Agreement on Requirements for Wine Labeling. Effectively, the parties to the Agreement believed that common labeling requirements would allow vintners to use the same wine label when shipping wine products to multiple countries.
While negotiating, the parties to the Agreement realized that most countries mandate four elements on wine labels. The four items, collectively referred to as “Common Mandatory Information,” are: (1) the country of the product’s origin, (2) product name, (3) net contents, and (4) actual alcohol content (or the ABV). See Article 11 of the Agreement on Requirements for Wine Labeling. The Agreement also incorporates the idea of a “Single Field of Vision” approach, which stresses that if all four of the Common Mandatory Information elements are visible at the same time (excluding the base and cap of the container), the label will meet the placement requirements of each party to the Agreement.
TTB reviewed its wine labeling regulations and found its ABV placement requirement was the only inconsistency between TTB wine regulations and the “Common Mandatory Information” requirements. As a result, TTB issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2007 to change this regulation and, later, a finalized rule. While the 2007 proposed rule called for a change to wine, beer and spirits labeling regulations, the final rule only changes the regulations for wine labels.
For wines with previously issued COLAs, “TTB’s position is that a new COLA is not required if the only change made to a wine label appearing on a previously issued COLA is the moving of the alcohol content information to a label other than the brand label.” See 78 FR 34567. This is consistent with other recent allowable changes to approved labels, a guideline for which TTB issued and On Reserve wrote about several months ago, suggesting the agency may be attempting to reduce the turnaround time for label approvals as well as decrease both internal and external costs.