By Guest Blogger Elaine Albrich

This post also appears on the Alcoholic Beverages Law Blog

Figuring out what information must be on your wine label can be tedious. Adding terms like "organic" or "sustainably-grown" can be even more challenging. Extra steps are required for adding organic certifications or claims to a wine label, although the regulation of such claims under the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade Bureau ("TTB") Certification/Exemption of Label/Bottle Approval (COLA) process has been made more clear with the Memorandum of Understanding between the TTB and the USDA concerning organic labeling and adverting. The MOU clarifies and delineates the enforcement responsibilities of each agency with respect to labeling and advertising of alcohol beverages produced under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA).

The USDA has authority over domestic and imported agricultural products to be sold, labeled, or represented, as organically produced. Under OFPA, the USDA has established the National Organic Program (NOP). Agricultural products that are sold or labeled as organically produced must be produced and handled in accordance with NOP. Any use of the term "organic" on a wine label or in adverting of wine must comply with the USDA’s NOP regulations. Now, with the adoption of the MOU, it is clear that TTB has the regulatory authority to determine whether proposed labels are consistent with NOP.

The Advertising Labeling and Formulation Division (ALFD) of the TTB has guidance for organic labeling applicants. The guidelines provide a step-by-step process of what is required to obtain label approval, including the need for proof of USDA-accredited certifying agent (ACA) preview, a certification statement, a sulfite statement, an ingredient statement, the USDA seal, and so on. The guidelines also contain an organic label quick reference sheet that explains the requirements for the various organic claims, like "100 percent organic," "organic," or "made with organic (specify ingredient)." Additional TTB guidelines on variations of "organic" labeling are available at www.ttb.gov/pdf/wine.pdf.

For fun, I looked at four different bottles of wine that made some claims for "green production." The first was a NSA Organic, USDA certified wine from the Columbia Valley. The bottle was blazed with the "organic" nature of the wine, from the foil marked with "NSA Organic" to the "certified organic vineyard" on the "back" label. The USDA Organic stamp was also featured. Comparatively, an Oregon pinot from Eola-Amity Hills was simply marked with a small "made with organic grapes" statement and certified organic by Oregon Tilth. Then there was another wine from Columbia Valley that, while not having any "organic" claim, was described as a "wine of sustainable and environmentally friendly farming." Finally, the fourth was an Austrian wine certified "Demeter," a biodynamics certification. However, notably many wines that are known to value biodynamic or sustainable farming practices do not make such claims on their labels. Recognizably, this allows for more flexibility and avoids the extra steps of having to prove organic label claims.