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Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand

Last month’s news that the federal government would allow nutrition labels on wine was mostly ignored by the wine business. Hardly anyone wrote about it, and the emails that I got said wine drinkers weren’t interested in nutrition labels and I would know this if I paid any attention to the real world.

Actually, the reverse is true. Wine drinkers are interested. The problem is that too many in the wine business don’t understand who their customers are or want they want. More, after the jump:

Winebits 285: Wine ingredients, Aussie wine, wine tasting

What in your wine? The wine industry, for the most part, has ignored the federal government’s decision to allow voluntary nutrition facts labels on its product. Eric Asimov at the New York Times, though not discussing the labels directly, writes about wine ingredients and offers the following: “…wine can very much be a manufactured product, processed to achieve a preconceived notion of how it should feel, smell and taste, and then rolled off the assembly line, year after year, as consistent and denatured as a potato chip or fast-food burger.” The nutrition labels are an opportunity for producers to connect to younger – and especially female – wine drinkers, and it looks like they’re going to pass it up for no good reason other than they think the idea is stupid.

No money down under: The news just keeps getting worse for the Australian wine business. Only one in four grape growers in the country’s best wine regions say their business is profitable, while a third of them want to stop growing grapes. And, to make matters worse, grape prices have dropped by half but only about 10 per cent of growers are being paid on time. The numbers come from an Australian government survey, and goes a long way to explain the ongoing crisis in the Aussie wine business.

How many wines was that? The best way to learn about wine is to taste wine, and Sean Sullivan at the Washington Wine Report knows that first hand. No wonder he won a Wine Blog Award. Sullivan recently tasted 600 Washington wines over the course of  several weeks – an impressive performance, even by the Wine Curmudgeon’s standards. The post is worth reading, even if you aren’t particularly interested in Washington wine, because it’s some of the best reporting I’ve seen from a wine writer in a long while. Sullivan eschews the usual sort of wine writing foolishness to give readers something they can use – hard facts, critical insight, and solid advice. In particular, his discussion of alcohol levels is very good.

Nutrition labels coming to wine — finally

Wine serving factsThe labels are voluntary, and wineries that don’t want to add them don’t have to. But voluntary is better than nothing, given the long and tortured history of the proposal.

The plan to add basic calorie, alcohol, and serving information to wine, also called serving facts, has been hanging around Washington even longer than the blog has been in existence — held hostage by the recession, a change in administrations, and the foolishness that passes for government in Washington. In addition, there was determined opposition from most of the beer, wine, and spirits industries, which saw the nutrition labels as costly and burdensome.

So the government agency that regulates liquor came up with the voluntary compromise, no doubt goaded by the biggest booze companies in the world. Diageo, among others, sees it as giving those who use it a competitive edge, and they’re right. Which of us wouldn’t be glad to see this information on a wine label?

A winery that wants to add the labels won’t need to do anything other follow the samples in this link, says Michael Kaiser of the Wine America trade group. Hopefully, many will do it, since the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs. An informed consumer is more likely to buy a product than consumers kept stumbling around in the dark by an industry that still acts, in many ways, as if Prohibition just ended.

And mandatory labeling? If and when that happens is anyone’s guess, says Kaiser. And his group still opposes it.

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