Why The TTB Says Natural Wine Isn't Possible

In yet another episode of Kristy vs. the TTB ( the government agency responsible for approving our wine labels), Kristy's still not winning and the TTB is still insisting that it's not possible to make wine from just grapes and sulfur. Oh, and now (all of a sudden) wild ML, which we've previously listed on our labels and had approved, is false and/or misleading.

I have to admit that I'm BEYOND frustrated at this point. To have the federal agency in charge of wine tell me, time and time again and after talking with multiple representatives, that it's simply not possible to make wine from only grapes and sulfur and with wild ML strains, is incomprehensible. It's ludicrous! And, most importantly, it's wrong.

Being in the business, most of us have read all about the natural wine movement: although there's no concise definition, I call it making wine with no ingredients. Although we're not strictly a natural wine brand (we add sulfur), that's our basic philosophy here: the less the better. That's how wine was "invented" or, more accurately, "discovered." Grapes are mushed up, yeast that's blowing around in the air and has settled on the skins of the grapes ferment it. ML, or malolactic fermentation, occurs spontaneously, via cultures of bacteria that are also in the environment and make the barrels their home. The wine goes through these natural fermentations, then is put into bottle after barrel aging. And that's how we make the majority of our wines, with a sprinkle of sulfur added for aging.

For those looking to read a little bit more about how wild ML is accomplished (yes, it's possible!), click here. Pay attention to paragraph two. Most winemakers don't because of the "risk factor" but some of us crazies do wild ML fermentation very successfully, year after year.

The most frustrating part of this fight is that Bonny Doon has already forged the path by labeling some of their wines with ingredients. However, they do list yeast and other items "used in the winemaking process" (see below). Apparently our big problem is that we have no other ingredients to list. If I were to tack on yeast and tartaric acid (neither of which we actually used for our 2010 Semillon), the label would likely be approved.

The worst part about all of this? I've been working on this label since spring and we're coming up on bottling next month. This means that I may have to strip all of this off my label so I can make the bottling date. But, I promise, if I do, I'll continue to push an ingredients statement for our 2011 wines. Perhaps if we can get it approved it will allow for other wineries to be able to do the same in the future. After all, if we want to be more transparent, and communicate exactly what's used in our winemaking process, why shouldn't we? Isn't part of the TTB's role to make sure wineries are transparent and truthful when they label their wines?

Just for reference, here's an image of the label we're trying to get approved (below). Wish me luck!


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