The government takes another try today - its third so far - at formulating wine labeling regulations that both industry and consumers will accept.
A series of proposals initiated by the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) appear in the Federal Register. They represent a significant change in the makeup of varietal wines (the often costly bottle of cabernet sauvignon and other noble grapes), require more specific identification of the sources of a wine and distinguish brand names from real geographic names.
Most of the new proposals appear to follow suggestions made at public hearings held here and on the West Coast in February. BATF has scheduled further hearings in August.
Missing is the controversial concept of a category of "AFT Seal" wines. Intended as a way to upgrade the domestic wine industry by identifying wines made under stringent regulation, the proposal was attacked by industry as making apparent quality judgements and by consumers as having large loopholes. Today's notice confirmed earlier reports that the plan had been scrapped.
Most significant for consumers is the proposal tht a varietal wine contain at least 75 per cent of its volume from the grape named on the label. the current minimum is 51 per cent. This adjustment was proposed in February by the Wine Institute, which represents California wineries and is the industry's largest trade association. It would not take effect until 1981, however.
After testimony from New York State Firms, BATF wrote in an exception for vitis labrusca , varietals such as the Concord to remain at 51 per cent. Witness testified tht the strong flavor of those grapes would become overbearing if the blend were changed.
The bureau wants to establish two categories of controlled growing appellations, specific vineyards and larger "viticultural areas." The areas may run over county or state boundaries but must be "distinguished by particular geographic features." To be a vineyard wine, 95 per cent of the grapes would have to come from the vineyard itself, 85 per cent of the grapes would have to come from within a viticultural area (such as Napa Valley) claimed on the label.
Drawing borders for these areas has been a sticking point in the past. BATF is now promising to recognize boundaries and to publish listings of the areas as well as accredited vineyards.
Brand names with geographic significance would have to contain the word "brand" or a trademark or registration symbol under the proposed regulations.
Other changes: the term "estate bottled" would be discontinued after 1983; the label of a vintage wine would have to indicate where the grapes used were harvested; labels would indicate the bottler of a wine and who produced or blended it.
In announcing the changes, BATF director Rex D. Davis said, " . . . I think we are close to a solution" of the wine labeling squabble. Nonetheless, he and a panel will hear public testimony here on Aug. 2 and 3, and in San Francisco Aug. 23 to 25 before announcing any final ruling.