Category Archives: Wine Law

Reading Sparkling Wine Labels


Posted by Sarah Wickham on May 6, 2013.

Wine labels.  Simple stickers affixed to 750mL of fermented grape juice.  My father logs the majority of the wines he drinks by peeling the label and saving it in a notebook with his tasting notes, often accompanied by notes about the food that accompanied the wine at dinner that evening, what he and the rest of our family were doing that day, and what the weather was like.  The notes are sometimes heavy on the wine, sometimes heavy on life; it seems to depend on the day.  He has quite the collection of filled notebooks, and I love to page through them when I’m home over the weekend.  With the labels and a few notes as an aid, he can vividly recall wines from almost a year back, sometimes longer. (My favorite note so far: “Had this one for Greg’s birthday.  Pork chops and sweet potatoes.  We really liked it.  Greg is not here.”)

We rely heavily on labels to help us understand what the bottle holds, where it is from, when and how it was made, its alcohol content, and ultimately, if we are likely to enjoy it.  The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualite (which confusingly goes by an old acronym, INAO), and the EU set forth numerous requirements for labels to protect consumers and producers.  The regulations assist consumers in understanding the quality and origin of the wine and help uphold the reputations of the regions that produce them. While these intentions are sound, the laws are often so convoluted or obscure that they are lost on most consumers, many of whom already find appellation naming, vintages, and varietals overwhelming.

I offer this, the first installment in my primer for reading the tea leaves of the wine labels: sparkling wine terminology. Continue reading

Professional Opportunities and Jobs in Wine Law

 Professional Opportunities and Jobs in Wine LawQuinta Nova; Duoro Valley, Portugal

Posted by Lindsey A. Zahn on April 29, 2013.

For students and even professionals interested in pursuing wine law, an avid question that often results is how to pursue wine law as a profession or professionally. Originally, when I first started my journey as a wine law researcher, I thought there was only one answer to this question: to practice wine law in a law firm, irrespective of the firm’s size. I also originally believed—quite incorrectly, actually—California to be the only state within the United States in which one could practice wine law. However, as I learned more about the field from both reading literature and speaking with a variety of practitioners, I realized there is a lot more to a professional career in wine law—just as there certainly are a lot of options aside from traditional practice one can pursue with a Juris Doctor. As a result, I thought an entry surveying the options with which I am familiar might be useful to those curious about professional pathways for wine and the law.

The most important distinction I must make before discussing the professional opportunities I know of with respect to wine and law is that wine law and alcohol beverage regulation are different. Wine law pertains exclusively to the legal regulation of the wine industry whereas alcohol beverage regulation usually entails wine, spirits, and beer. While the practice of each is not mutually exclusive, there are many opportunities that focus on one rather than the other. Because my professional focus is on wine law, I will discuss opportunities pertaining to wine and the law (but, because alcohol beverage regulation and wine law are not mutually exclusive, some of the forthcoming ideas may address alcohol beverage opportunities as well). Continue reading

Kosher Wine: An Ancient History

kosher wine1

Posted by Lindzey Schindler on April 25, 2013.

Judaism is an ancient religion, purported to have begun around 1400 B.C. at Mount Sinai, when God gave Moses the well-known Ten Commandments.2  Along with the Commandments, God also revealed dietary laws, or kashrut,3 which have been interpreted and expanded throughout the years by rabbis and Jewish sages.4  Many people have a vague idea of what these dietary laws consist of; keeping kosher means no pork, no mixing meat with dairy, and no eating animals unless they have been blessed by a rabbi and slaughtered in a certain way.  This can mean various things to various people: either a decision to ignore the rules altogether, deciding not to eat cheeseburgers or pepperoni pizza, or having a completely different set of dishes and silverware, Tupperware, pots and pans, and sometimes even refrigerators, so that dairy and meat have no chance of crossing paths.  But in addition to the rule not to mix meat and milk and other rules,5 the laws of kashrut also apply to Jewish wine. Continue reading

Farm Wineries: Following the Arkansas Model

farm winery

CC image courtesy of MdAgDept.

Posted by Greg Renick on April 22, 2013.

There are some powerhouse regions of winemaking here in the United States—California, Washington, and Oregon come to mind.  But winemaking in the United States is much more than a collection of large-scale wineries that ship millions of gallons of wine to consumers nationwide.  Rather, a number of “small-farm wineries” are scattered across all regions of the country, many of which have been operated by single families for generations.  These farm wineries remain an integral part of our nation’s wine production and are often subject to specific production and distribution laws.

Arkansas is one of many states whose native wine production comes exclusively from small-farm wineries.  In an effort to better understand the regulations relating to these farm wineries, I turned to members of the renowned Post family, who for five generations have owned and operated Arkansas’ premier winery.  The Post Familie Winery is the largest winery in Arkansas and was the first commercial vineyard in the state, formally opening in 1880.  The Posts still purchase roughly 80% of the state’s grape production, further cementing themselves as the premier winemaking family in the state.1  In fact, after the Prohibition era, the Arkansas state legislature turned to members of the Post family for assistance in drafting laws to make winegrowing legal once again.  It should come as no surprise, then, that a member of the Post family, John Post, assisted in drafting important Arkansas farm winery laws that were enacted in 2007. Continue reading

A Toast to Wine Trademarks


Posted by Mystyc Metrik on April 15, 2013.

So you’ve opened up a vineyard and started producing some excellent wines.  While your wines are aging to perfection, you might want to come up with a catchy brand name or distinctive label for your vineyard, so that consumers will know the source of your wines.  As the wines become better known, your brand reputation will grow and hopefully attract more customers.  But, how do you choose the perfect name?  What must you do to protect your brand?  This is where trademark law steps in.

First, you have to choose a name.  Not all names are created equal, however.1  Ideally you will want to create a fanciful or coined term, essentially a made-up name.  These marks are entitled to the strongest trademark protection, and it is likely that no one else will be using that name.  Next in the naming hierarchy are arbitrary and suggestive terms.  Arbitrary terms are real words, but have no inherent relation to the product or company; for instance, calling Mac computers “Apple”—or calling a wine brand “Rainy Day.”  Suggestive trademarks are those that require a little bit of effort and imagination to connect the trademark with the product.  For example, using a brand name of “Silk” to describe the smooth texture of your wines would be suggestive.  Both arbitrary and suggestive trademarks are considered to be inherently distinctive, and there is no need to show that consumers associate the brand name with your products.2 Continue reading

Protectionism in New York Wine Law


Posted by Connor O’Shea on April 8, 2013.

Since the New York Farm Winery Act reinvigorated the industry in the late 1970s, wine production and consumption in New York has greatly expanded.  With the rise to prominence of certain AVAs within the state—particularly the Finger Lakes and the Hamptons—wine grape production has grown over 17%, and New York is now the third largest wine market and producer in the United States.1  As New York producers have continued their attempt to chip away at California’s dominance of the American wine market, the state legislature has tried to facilitate the New York wine industry’s growth by enacting protectionist measures.  While some measures have failed when confronted with the Dormant Commerce Clause,2 others still remain.  In particular, the structure of definitions assigned to certain terms within the state alcoholic beverage code provide discrete advantages for in-state wine producers. Continue reading

Freer Grapes and Freer Markets: Direct Wine Shipment in South Dakota

Direct ShippingCC image courtesy of David Becker

Posted by Byron Crowe II on April 4, 2013.

As the 2013 South Dakota legislative session came to a close last week, I was disappointed that our legislators again failed to pass a law allowing the shipment of wine directly from producers to South Dakota consumers.  Despite the efforts of Senator Adelstein and South Dakotans for Better Wine Laws, who advocated for direct shipping under SB 100,1 the wine market in our state is no freer.  South Dakota continues to be one of only ten states that do not allow direct shipping.2

The benefits of direct shipping of wine are substantial.  Direct shipping would increase the variety of wines available to our state’s consumers and would allow South Dakotans to enjoy these new products at lower prices than otherwise available by cutting the markups at the wholesale and retail levels.  Direct shipping also has the benefit of decreasing the prices of wines that are already available by increasing the number of sources from which consumers can purchase them.  Consumers are offered better prices because wholesalers are forced to compete not only with each other, but also directly with producers. In short, direct shipment means more selection, better prices, and freer markets. Continue reading

Just a Taste: A Sample of American Wine Tasting Laws


Posted by Els Baum on March 11, 2013.

Here at Cornell, we’re lucky enough to be smack-dab in the middle of New York’s Finger Lakes wine country, where dozens of small local wineries sit along the shores of the long, thin lakes that give the region its name.  We’re luckier still that almost all of these wineries have tasting rooms.  There, for just a few dollars, anyone of legal drinking age can sample six or seven different wines, chat with an expert about the latest growing season or a particularly good vintage, and even decide on a nice bottle to take home.

Wine tastings, be they at festivals, fairs, charity events, or competitions, have long been a treasured part of wine culture.  Particularly for farm wineries (a class of winery where the fruit used in the wine is grown—and the final product is sold—on-site), tastings also serve the important functions of promoting the winery and drawing in new customers through agritourism. Continue reading

Whining about Wine Labels

Wine glass splash

Posted by Alex Poe on February 28, 2013

Wine, as a drink, is a wonderfully complex thing.  The tastes and smells that emanate from a wine glass can be endlessly debated.  Wine, as a set of laws, is also incredibly complex.  Everything from the wine making process to the shipment of the wine is regulated by both federal and state governments.  Of particular relevance to producers, though, are regulations on wine labeling.  Labeling laws protect high-end producers who carefully source their grapes—often drawing solely from a particular geographic area—by restricting which wines can be labeled with certain terms.

In 2006, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) signed the “Agreement Between the United States of America and the European Community on Trade in Wine.”1  As the name suggests, it dealt with the trading of wine between the US and the EU.  One of the main provisions of the Agreement outlined specific rules for wine labels and semi-generic names.2  Semi-generic names use terms that originally designated a wine-producing region.  For example, a bottle labeled as champagne was to be made entirely of grapes from Champagne, France.3  However, wine makers in America began labeling their wines with semi-generic names following the place of origin, like “California Champagne,” to suggest the type and style of their wine.  This labeling practice did not meet the EU’s regulatory standards, so the Agreement now prohibits this practice in order to limit misleading labels and to further facilitate trade.4 Continue reading

Wine Lovers Without Representation: The Future of Massachusetts Wine Shipping


Posted by Ryan P. Mulvey on February 4, 2013

While the bench and bar may claim a monopoly on legal expertise, you don’t need to go to law school for three years to know that it’s wrong to ignore the ruling of a federal appellate court.  Once you’ve lost your case, you conform to the law.  But in Massachusetts, legislators continue to abridge the rights of wine enthusiasts and their suppliers by dragging their feet on a First Circuit mandate to reform the state’s wine shipping laws.

Massachusetts is known for its proclivity to tax, spend, and regulate.  Nowhere else in the Union has there been as remarkable, if not paradoxical, a fusion of liberal progressivism and puritanical culture.  In the Commonwealth, you can only buy beer, wine, or liquor in a designated liquor store, and it has to be carried out in a package or box.  Alcohol can never be discounted — ergo, no happy hour — and don’t even think about ordering a round of drinks for your friends after that Red Sox victory, because state law limits bar purchases to two drinks per person at a single time.  Forget bottle service, too.  Suffice it to say, the list goes on. Continue reading