Time for TTB to Allow Vintage Dates on Cider Labels?

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the concern with Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) labeling issues continues to grow amongst some American cideries. Since 1935 (when the Federal Alcohol Administration Act or “FAA Act” was passed), alcohol has been designated into the category of either beer, spirits, or wine. But now, with the cider industry continuing to grow, those three categories are causing trouble over labeling requirements and issues.

Cider, is defined by law, as a fruit wine: “produced by the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound, ripe apples;” but even with this definition, cider is treated as an outlier. For example, one of the concerns with labeling comes from the use of “vintage” years. Even though cider is considered a wine by its definition, TTB labeling requirements only allow grape wine the luxury of using a vintage year on the label. TTB also indicates that if the vintage date for the grape wine is shown on the label, an appellation of origin must also be shown. Recent attempts by cideries to use other phrases encompassing the same meaning as vintage dates have been rejected by the TTB.

Because of this encumbrance, some cideries fear their products are mistakenly thought of as a product similar to beer. Aside from the category issue, cideries feel it is increasingly important for their products to have accurate labeling for the same reason grape wines have date specific labeling: the growing season. Those in the business understand that the growing seasons for apple production is extremely important to the final product and the label should reflect that. As with grape wines, informed consumers understand that not all grape seasons are created equal and that some harvest seasons yield far better grapes, and therefore yield far better wines.

Many in the cider industry argue it is time for a change and are beginning to lobby congress to incorporate an amendment to the current law. Some argue a solution lies in creating an Appellation of Origin system for apples. Regardless, it is important to understand that the current state of federal alcohol regulation is operating on a post-prohibition era system of laws, and making changes to this system of laws can be a frustratingly long process.

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