Ever wonder whether the claim that a wine uses “organic grapes” is really true? Wine is one area where if such claims make their way onto a wine bottle, they are almost certainly valid, as the TTB and the National Organic Program (“NOP”) maintain extremely strict requirements for organic claims on the label. The NOP has four primary categories for alcoholic beverages: 1) “100% Organic,” 2) “Organic,” meaning at least 95% organic and with no chemically added sulfites, 3) “Made with Organic [ingredients],” requiring at least 70% organic ingredients and may contain chemically added sulfites, and 4) for certain products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients, the ingredients statement may disclose the organic components.
In order to make any organic claims on a wine bottle or other alcohol label, TTB requires several sources of verification, making for a comprehensive but arduous application process. Along with the items normally required for label approval, applicants must first provide a Processor’s or Handler’s Operation Certificate, which certifies that the winery uses accepted NOP standards. This is often referred to by the TTB as the “organic certificate.” Notably, imported wines sometimes have difficulty meeting this requirement because foreign certifications are only sufficient if the foreign entity is also a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent. Next, applicants must provide an Accredited Certifying Agent Preview, which indicates that the label has been reviewed and found to be in compliance with TTB rules. Additionally, applicants may need to provide a crop certificate that certifies that the agricultural produce used in the product were grown to NOP standards.
The TTB also has specific rules for the label itself, including requiring a “certification statement,” which includes the name of the accredited certifying agent. These requirements must be repeated for each vintage year, as labels for new vintages must be resubmitted for approval.
Notably, despite these strict requirements for organic wine labels, other statements on wine bottles that pertain to farming techniques and other “green” claims are largely unregulated by the TTB. However, this is a fast-evolving area, so stay tuned.
If you need assistance with organic labels, the attorneys at Strike & Techel are familiar with the process and able to help.
UPDATE: On June 12, 2012, the TTB announced a change to the organic documentation requirements. A copy of the organic certificate is no longer required to accompany COLA applications for alcoholic beverages with “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic (ingredients)” on their labels. The Accredited Certifying Agent Preview is still required. Please eee the TTB release, available here, for additional information.
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