Lawyers may know law, but they don’t necessarily know regional wine – and the FSO rule changes are good for regional wine.
When the federal government proposed rules to stop wineries from confusing customers by using the For Sale in Texas Only dodge, those of us who care about regional wine wrote glowing reviews of the regulations. Finally, producers would have to call a non-local wine a non-local wine, instead of using some fine print on the back label to get around appellation laws.
Now, though, the lawyers for the other side are taking shots at the proposal, and you’d think those of us who want Texas wine to be from Texas – or Virginia wine to be from Virginia, Missouri wine to be from Missouri, and so forth – were Commie pinkos trying to undermine the American way of life.
“… [C]onsumers right to know where the grapes in their wine come from is compromised,” says the blog post describing the proposal, written by two attorneys from the prestigious Hinman & Carmichael law firm in San Francisco, well known in liquor law circles (and who are not related to me, though one is named Siegel). The post says the rules are unfair and will penalize hard-working winemakers who genuinely want to make great wine using out-of-state grapes.
It also defends “small wineries in remote states” who “won’t be able to provide their consumers with truthful and accurate information about the wine they are drinking locally” if the rules are accepted. Which may be the first time in more than 25 years writing about regional wine that I’ve seen anyone in California take up the cause of small wineries in remote states.
The proposed regulations require wine that doesn’t meet appellation laws for local labeling to be labeled American, or else not list the vintage and the grapes the wine is made to be allowed to a For Sale in Only, or FSO, label. There is nothing onerous about that, and especially for producers who aren’t trying to pull a fast one by using the FSO rules to make wine drinkers think the wine is local. Because FSO rules allow wine that can be mostly out-of-state grapes to carry a label that makes it look like the grapes are all local. As I have written, “This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so.”
I would never try to explain law to a lawyer, and there may be something legal in the Hinman post that I’m missing. But I do know regional wine, maybe better than all but two or three people in the country. And to argue that this law penalizes well-intentioned winemakers is specious. Well-intentioned winemakers are already labeling their wine American, so this law won’t hurt them at all. It will hurt everyone who wants consumers to think a wine is local when it isn’t, and what’s wrong with that?