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Is It Really Champagne? The Laws That Govern Sparkling Wine Labels

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Are you about to start producing sparkling wine and wondering how you should identify your product? Should you stick with the term "sparkling wine", or can you spruce up your labels with some fancier terminology? The fact of the matter is that this decision isn't yours to make because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) have strict rules governing what words you can place on your bottles. Read on to learn about the laws that limit how you can identify your sparkling wine.

The Definition Of Sparkling Wine

In order to brand your business as a maker of sparkling wine, you must be producing a grape wine that is carbonated solely by the process of fermentation. In addition, the fermentation process must take place in closed containers, tanks, or bottles.

If you'll be adding carbon dioxide via a process other than fermentation to your wine to make it more bubbly, then you won't be producing sparkling wine at all, and you must instead label your product as "carbonated grape wine". If your company does meet the criteria, however, then you will be producing sparkling wine, but just what kind of sparkling wine will you be producing?

Earning The Title Of Champagne

Few bubbly beverages earn the right to call themselves champagne, and if the grapes you'll be using in your production were harvested in the United States, yours isn't one of them. All champagne must be made with grapes from the Champagne area of France -- a region long-known for high-quality sparkling wine production. 

But just being produced in Champagne doesn't qualify as sparkling wine to be labeled with the word champagne. It also must have the taste and aroma characteristic of champagnes past, and be fermented in the glass containers that it is sold in.

It's A Dead Ringer For Champagne, But Made With Grapes From The U.S.

If you'll be fermenting your sparkling wine in the glass containers it will be sold in, and your product will truly meet the odor and taste standards of the classic beverages from Champagne, France, then you can use the word champagne on your label, but only within the broader terms of "champagne-style" or "champagne-type". This indicates to the consumer that, while the product looks and tastes like Champagne, it's doesn't meet all the criteria of the authentic alcoholic beverage.

It Smells And Tastes Like Champagne, But Isn't Fermented In Its Sale Bottle

If the sparkling wine you'll be producing will have many of the characteristics of champagne but will be fermented in non-glass containers or glass containers other than those which it will be sold in, then you may use the term champagne, preceded by your country or state name. Keep in mind, though, that you must also include a statement on your label indicating the manner in which your product was fermented.

"Bulk processed", "fermented outside of bottle", and "fermented before bottling" are all acceptable terms to use in this scenario. If your sparkling wine was fermented using the charmat method, you may include this information, but not in lieu of a statement indicating bulk processing. 

The Consequences Of Mislabeling Your Sparkling Wine

If the TTB determines that you have mislabeled your wine, their first step will likely be to call you and request a voluntary recall of your products. If you comply, you'll need to recuperate as many sold bottles of wine as possible, and then relabel them appropriately before placing them back on store shelves.

This doesn't sound so terrible, but the specifics of the recall will also need to be listed in a press release, thus damaging your company's integrity in the eyes of the public.

If you don't comply with a voluntary recall, the TTB will begin cooperating with your state and local officials to seize your mislabeled products. In this event, you'll be subject to hefty fines and could lose your license to produce alcohol.

If you don't properly label the sparkling wine you sell, you can be found guilty of wine fraud in a court of law. Study the laws of wine labeling carefully before submitting your label to the TTB for review, and if you find yourself accused of mislabeling your products, protect your business by contacting a lawyer that specializes in liquor laws right away.