100% Texas Grapes. 100% Texas Wine.

100% Texas Grapes. 100% Texas Wine. 

Those are the first words on the back of every bottle of Duchman wine. It seems like a pretty obvious statement. Duchman is a Texas winery, and we put Texas on the label, so the grapes must be from Texas, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. Every single grape that goes into a bottle of Duchman wine is grown in Texas, but that may not be the case with other wines bearing a Texas label.

Labeling laws in Texas currently mirror federal guidelines for authenticity of origin, and by those rules, only 75% of the wine in the bottle must be from within the state to be labeled as a Texas wine. Where is the rest from? It could be anywhere (but probably California), and the winery is not required to disclose that information on the label. In some cases, they aren’t even allowed to disclose the origin of the other grapes on the label.

Confusing? You bet. Federal law requires that a wine indicate origin, but a winery may only list multiple states if the states are contiguous. If, for instance, a winery were to use some Texas fruit and some California fruit, federal law would not allow both states to appear on the label since they don’t share a border. If the content is at least 75% Texas fruit, the wine can be labeled as a Texas wine, but if the percentage is less than 75%, the wine must be labeled as “American.”

Adding to the confusion, wineries can bypass origin labeling altogether if they don’t distribute outside of Texas. In this case, a winery can add text to their label indicating that the wine is “For Sale in Texas Only.” Once those words are on the back label, no indication of origin is necessary. The contents of the bottle might be from Texas, or California, or anywhere else for that matter.

Interestingly, wines that employ the “For Sale in Texas Only” label are not required to meet federal origin labeling guidelines, so they could, in theory, use the exemption to give consumers more information than the federal guidelines allow. Unfortunately, this isn’t a common practice in Texas. More often, the exemption appears on bottles (in the smallest font allowable by law) featuring logos or images that suggest a wine’s origin, even if that suggestion is far from the truth.  

And that is where this discussion really begins. Recently, labeling guidelines have been challenged at both the state and national level. TTB, the federal authority, is considering a rule change that would restrict the information available on bottles that carry the “For Sale in X” label, making the waters murkier for those wines, but in turn protecting the marketing value of established AVAs.  Closer to home, Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs proposed legislation requiring any bottle of wine carrying a Texas appellation on the label be produced from 100% Texas fruit instead of the current 75% requirement.

There is no mistaking our position on the Texas rule. We believe strongly that Texas wine should be made with 100% Texas fruit. Any percentage of authenticity other than 100% is arbitrary. The 75% rule was undoubtedly the subject of much research, discussion, debate, and compromise. For a budding wine region, the allowance of outside fruit is a necessity, but as the region progresses, credibility demands that the rules progress as well. A quick scan of the most respected wine regions in the world will reveal that origin authenticity is a cornerstone of each region’s identity.

Quite frankly, we understand better than most the difficulty of producing 100% Texas wines year in and year out.  As a result, we are sympathetic to concerns about the 100% requirement. The arguments against the rule include the possibility of rising grape prices, a disinclination to invite more regulation, notions that regulations will limit the artistic license of winemakers, and the possibility of a bad vintage putting wineries out of business. Some of these positions are well thought out and merit consideration of the timeframe for rolling out a new rule. A graduated implementation would give affected producers a little more time to establish new sources for Texas fruit.  Other arguments are less convincing.  Nobody will be prevented from making the very wines that they make today or be driven out of business, despite claims to the contrary. The rule doesn’t prevent a winery from sourcing wine from other areas in a tough vintage or to preserve a particular wine style. They would simply have to change the label on the bottle.  

Despite all of these arguments, wineries should not be driving this conversation. Wineries, including Duchman, have vested interests and shouldn’t be tasked with determining the outcome of what is plainly a consumer facing issue. The matter at stake is what information you, the consumer, would like to have on a bottle of wine. Does origin matter? Do you want to know where your wine was produced? And if so, is 75% adequate, or should 100% be the standard?

While we take care not to mix wine and politics any more than is absolutely necessary, this issue marks a milestone in the Texas wine industry and deserves comment. The very fact that the discussion is taking place is cause for celebration.  The industry has grown by leaps and bounds in both size and quality, and as Texas wines continue to receive the respect and praise they deserve on an international stage, the importance of defining the industry will grow as well.

We want to hear from the group that matters most, the consumers purchasing Texas wine. Please join us on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/DuchmanFamilyWinery)  to take part in the discussion, and we hope you also share your opinion with your representative.

Cheers!

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