What are wine laws?
Wine laws are the set of rules which regulate various aspects of production and sales of wine. The purpose of wine laws includes combating wine fraud, by means of regulated protected designations of origin, labeling practices and classification of wine, as well as regulating allowed additives and procedures in winemaking and viticulture. Legislation affecting all kinds of alcohol beverages, such as the legal drinking age and licensing practices related to distribution, Taxation and sales, are usually not considered wine laws.
Wine is regulated by regional, state, and local laws. The laws and their relative rigidity differ for New World and Old World wines. Old World wines tend to have more stringent regulations than New World wines.
Why wine laws
In the international wine trade Wine Laws enforce the regulations about the additives and processes that can be used in winemaking, which are collectively known as oenological practices. The set of wine regulations covers the details of oenological practices that are permitted within a particular country and regimes that limit additive use such as organic wine production and environmentally friendly wine production, regulations of wine importation, and scope for multilateral and bilateral wine trade agreements, and labeling of additives as well as of wine produced domestically or imported from other jurisdictions.
In the international wine trade there are a number of different approaches for the import of wine from requiring imported wine to use the same oenological practices as the wines of the country into which it is imported, to the EU’s approach of bilateral wine trade agreements with individual countries that cover permitted oenological practices, and the multilateral Mutual Acceptance Agreement on Oenological Practices between the member states. In terms of labeling of additives, all jurisdictions will soon require labeling of sulphites and Australia and New Zealand require the labeling of additional allergens.
What are Oenological Practices?
In the international wine industry terminology, additives range from substances that are added to increase the alcoholic strength of the wine, such as sugar, to substances that are added to ensure or enhance the stability of the end product, such as ﬁning materials. Processes cover activities such as ﬁltration to more recently developed techniques such as reverse osmosis which can be used to remove water from must, extract ﬂavour from must or remove alcohol from wine. The substances that are added during winemaking together the various processes that wine undergoes, some of which remove substances from wine or must, are referred to as oenological practices. It is to be noted that these practices differ from one country to another or even region to region depending upon local climatic conditions or preferences to wine styles for which the region has gained recognition.
How Wine can be adulterated?
Examples of ways in which wine could be adulterated are adding water, adding other (usually cheaper) substances such as spirits or other wine, adding substances to ﬁx faulty wines such as milk, mustard, ashes, nettles and lead (which prevents wine from becoming vinegary and makes it taste sweeter, but which is unfortunately poisonous). Alternatively the beverage could be called wine, but actually be made with fruits other than grapes (or even grapes that are not permitted grape varietals) to add ﬂavour or for cheaper production, or it could be made from raisins – something that is often done in home winemaking. Today, laws are very speciﬁc about what wine is, and how it can be made. Since the use of additives is legislated, laws can be broken to produce a product which can be otherwise harmful for safe human consumption.
How the additives have been misused in the past
For the purposes of this discussion, misuse can be classiﬁed into two major categories – that which breaks laws and does not injure human health, and that which breaks laws and injures human health. The major example, in the last century, where people were seriously injured and died is the methanol-based “Barbera”. This “wine” was made from odds and ends of wine together with methanol in Italy in 1985, and resulted in the deaths of 20 people while others went blind. Surprisingly, this did not have a large impact on Italian sales but it did take a while for Barbera to recover its reputation (James 2004). More recently in 1999, during the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, popularly known as “mad cow disease”) crisis, one hundred thousand bottles of wine from the Rhone was seized on the grounds that they may have been ﬁned with dried cows’ blood, a practice banned in the EU from 1997 onwards (The Times 1999). For people who are seriously allergic to sulphur dioxide, the 2002 Creston Bay Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia was potentially dangerous, and was withdrawn for sulphur dioxide levels up to 17 times the permitted level.
In terms of misuse without serious health implications, there have been a number of examples since the turn of the century. In 2000, glycol was found in low-end Alsace wine leading to the wines’ withdrawal and not much else. In 2004, there were rumors of a cover-up of a scandal about additives in Bulgarian wine (Gebler 2004) and watered down Bulgarian wines were found on sale in 2003.
The UK Wine Standards Board is currently investigating Spanish wines with added sucrose, alcohol and water. In 2000, two unhappy employees accused an Australian winery of adding silver nitrate to their wines to improve aroma. The winery was ﬁned, its future production was tested for the additive and it was audited to ensure it complied with all wine laws.
Probably the most well-known scandal is the Austrian “anti-freeze” scandal. In 1985, it was discovered that some Austrian wines contained diethylene glycol which gave the wines more body and made them taste sweeter (Robinson 1999). This revelation led to a drop in the demand for Austrian wine outside Austria, and a move to stricter wine laws. The additive which is used as anti-freeze does not harm people but is illegal so the health aspects were not serious. The addition was discovered after a red ﬂag was raised by a tax official who could not understand why a wine producer was claiming for VAT spent on diethylene glycol. Additionally, Japanese wines were also found to be contaminated with diethylene glycol from blending of Austrian wines, permitted by weaker laws on origin labeling.
The most relevant scandal from the point of view of South Africa is the recent ﬂavourants scandal. In an article published on 14 November 2003 in the South African daily newspaper, Business Day, Michael Fridjhon a well-known wine industry personality described the rumors circulating in the South African wine industry about the use of ﬂavourants in Sauvignon Blanc . Note that all these ﬂavourants can be legally used in alcoholic beverage coolers in SA. The Wine and Spirit Board responded on 18 November 2003 with a statement that they had been developing a detection method, and that it would be applied to the 2004 harvest (Wine and Spirit Board 2003). In the one case, green peppers had been used and in the other case, synthetic ﬂavourants. Although neither of the additives was harmful to human health, they were both illegal in terms of South African wine legislation.
There is also misuse which could be viewed as bending the laws rather than breaking them. An example is the use of reverse osmosis in Europe which is permitted for must concentration but not for wine concentration. One famous Italian winemaker, has claimed that most reverse osmosis in the EU is done illegally because it is applied to remove water from the wine after fermentation as opposed to being used for must concentration before fermentation, which is legal (Beckett 2003).
In California, the addition of water is a big issue. Unlike the federal winemaking regulations which permit water addition for a variety of reasons, the state laws of California are much more restrictive, and only permit the minimum water required to facilitate a normal fermentation. Water can also be used to reduce alcohol levels to produce more elegant wines and addition for this reason is not permitted within the legislation, however it is difficult to distinguish between the two practices. It is claimed that this “watering back” is common and that much of the wine produced in California has had water added before or during fermentation.
Standards of Wines
Almost all wine producing countries have included Wine Standard Specifications in their Wine Regulations/Legislations/Laws; however their approach may vary from one jurisdiction to another depending upon their basic approach for consumer’s health considerations to their local climatic conditions. Usually all Standards sets general definitions for wine and wine products and provides permissions for the addition of certain foods Additives and Processing aids during the production of wine. The wine Standards also sets the compositional and other requirements for wine and all wine categories that are imported into its jurisdictions. It is to be noted that certain limits can also be imposed on the use certain food Additives and Processing aids commonly used during the production of wine.
Complications in standard specifications arises when certain limits vary from one jurisdiction to another usually in specification value for their contents of ethyal alcohol, residual Sugar levels, pH values, total acid contents, volatile acidity, total sulphur dioxide, free sulphur dioxide, Copper, Iron and Tannins levels and Thus making it imperative for all export consignments to meet all Standard specification applicable in the jurisdiction of Export destinations. However in order to avoid these complications the new world country producers have enacted Mutual Acceptance Agreements (MAA) between the member nations and these group is known as World Wine Trade Group. However EU is not a member of this group and has in place other Bilateral Trade agreements or sometimes arrangements to avoid these complications.
Why India Need consistency in wine policy with Wine Regulations in place
The identified objectives of Indian wine regulations should be:
- To increase the competitiveness of Indian wine producers in international wine trade
- To strengthen the reputation of India as quality wine producer
- To create a wine regime that preserves the best traditions of wine production, provide and empower the grape growers both economically and socially.
- To ensures that all production respects the environment.
- To remove a major marketing handicap for Indian wine exporters
- To promote wine culture in rural as well as in urban populace by spreading awareness of benefits of wine drinking over hard liquor
- To create a wine policy that will give due consideration to the increased concerns of society as regards health and consumer protection,
- To emphasize the need for World Trade Organization (WTO) compatibility and consistency with international wine trade policies.
The challenge is to adapt the production structure and regulatory framework in the interest of a sustainable and competitive Indian wine industry with long-term prospects.
International Wine Regulations
Rajiv Seth is a wine educationist, Author and an expert in International Wine Legislation especially European Union. In 1987, he became the first Indian to be awarded a gold medal from WSET, London. He also writes for DelWine.