What makes a wine from Texas a Texas wine?
Texans may soon find that the Texas wines on their local retailer shelves are, well, a bit more Texan.
A Texas legislator has introduced a bill (HB 1514) which, if passed, would require that any wine indicating that it comes from the state or a geographical subdivision thereof must be made entirely from fruit grown in Texas and be “fully produced and finished” in the state.
These standards are stricter than federal regulations that govern use of an appellation of origin or AVA name on wine labels. Under federal rules, a wine can be labeled with a state appellation of origin (“Texas”) so long as 75% of the grapes used to make the wine came from that state and the wine was fully finished in Texas or a neighboring state. Additionally, a wine could use the name of a single county if 75% of the grapes came from the named county and was fully finished in Texas. There are slightly more stringent federal requirements for using the name of a Texas AVA. Such wines must be made of at least 85% grapes from the named AVA and be fully finished in the state in which the AVA is located, or, in the case of a multi-state AVA, in one of the states in which the AVA is located.
In addition to promoting local agriculture, the bill has the added benefit of protecting consumers from misleading labeling practices. Under the current system, wineries that choose to sell wine solely within their home state can apply for a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) exemption for that wine, and can use a Texas appellation of origin without having to comply with any of the federal requirements mentioned above. According to some industry members, this loophole has allowed certain producers to market their wines as being from Texas even though the fruit is being trucked in from out of state. “[For Sale In Texas Only wine] sellers use symbology such as long-horned cattle, the colors of the state flag, allusions to Texas poets, claims of “Texas Style”, etc. on the label to mislead consumers into thinking that they are buying a Texas wine.”
Texas would not be the first state to adopt stricter grape sourcing requirements to protect consumers, grape growers, and the local wine industry. The draft legislation is similar to California Code of Regulations Sec. 17015, which imposes a 100% California grape sourcing requirement for wines labeled with “the appellation of origin ‘California’ or a geographical subdivision thereof” and requires that the wine be fully finished in the state. Oregon also has a 100% Oregon grape sourcing requirement, but it makes an exception for wines labeled with the name of a multi-state AVA, permitting such wines to carry the AVA name if 100% of the grapes came from Oregon and/or the other state in which the AVA lies. Given that the Mesilla Valley AVA straddles the Texas-New Mexico border, it will be interesting to see if HB 1514 will be amended to provide a multi-state AVA exception.
One last observation about HB 1514. The law may not be broad enough to address the full scope of the problem Texas wineries are facing from misleading labeling practices. California adopted Cal. Bus & Prof. Code 25241 to combat the use by certain wine brands of the Napa name separate and apart from the grape sourcing requirements under California Code of Regulations Sec. 17015. Perhaps Texas winemakers will need to promote similar measures to protect consumers from producers that want to wrap themselves in the Texas flag while making wine from fruit trucked in from other states.