In vino veritas: Is “Texas wine” really made with Texas grapes?

by | Jan 23, 2022 | Regulatory Risk Analysis and Compliance

“Great wine is something we can all agree upon,” says Chris Brundrett, co-founder of William Chris Wine Company and president of Texas Wine Growers. Something the Texas wine industry can’t agree on? What qualifies as “Texas wine.” In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed a wine labeling law that puts the controversy to rest (for now).

If you’ve visited the Texas Hill Country, you’ve probably seen wineries advertising their “Texas wine” or “Texas-grown wine.” But what does that really mean?

The content and specific language of wine labels is governed by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Under TTB regulations, at least 75% of a wine must be derived from Texas-grown grapes or other fruit to be labeled “Texas wine.”[1] That means up to 25% of a “Texas-grown wine” may come from grapes or fruit grown out of state.

Beginning with the 2017 legislative session, some wine producers lobbied for “Texas wine” to require 100% Texas-grown grapes, similar to state laws in California, Oregon, and Washington. Their efforts were led by Texas Wine Growers.

Others, including the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, opposed such legislation. “Why not all Texas grapes? We can’t get what we want or need in the quantities necessary,” Brian Heath, owner of Grape Creek Vineyards, told The Austin Chronicle in 2017. Opponents argue that the TTB’s 75% requirement allows for more competitive pricing with other regions and gives wine producers flexibility to source outside fruit in years when grape growers are plagued by extreme weather, disease, and/or labor shortages.  

It took six years and three legislative sessions, but stakeholders eventually hammered out a compromise—dubbed the “Grape Compromise” by Brundrett. HB 1957 was passed with bipartisan support and took effect on September 1, 2021 (although the changes will apply only to labels on wine made from grapes harvested on or after January 1, 2022). Under the new law:

  • Labels listing a county designation (e.g., Gillespie County) must include 75% grapes from within the stated county, with the remaining 25% from within Texas.
  • Labels listing an American Viticultural Area (AVA)[2] must include 85% grapes from within the stated AVA (e.g., the Texas Hill Country), with the remaining 15% from within Texas.
  • Labels listing a vineyard designation (e.g., Grape Creek Vineyard) must contain 95% grapes from within the stated vineyard, with the remaining 5% from within Texas.
  • Labels listing only Texas and not one of the designations above may include up to 25% grapes from outside of the state, in line with TTB regulations.[3]

“The proposed changes to the code are ‘permissive’ thus not requiring anyone to label their wines in this manner, but if a winery chooses to appellate with an AVA, county, or vineyard designation, the wine must be derived from Texas grapes,” explains Roxanne Myers, President of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. “Wines appellated only as ‘Texas’ would still be subject to current federal guidelines.”

According to reporting by Texas Wine Lover, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, the High Plains Winegrowers Association, the Texas Hill Country Association, and Texas Wine Growers agreed that no additional efforts will be undertaken in the next three legislative sessions to alter or amend labeling standards concerning the percentage of Texas grapes contained within a bottle of Texas wine.

[1] 27 C.F.R. § 4.25.

[2] There are seven TTB-established AVAs within Texas: (1) Bell Mountain; (2) Escondido Valley; (3) Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country; (4) Texas Davis Mountains; (5) Texas High Plains; (6) Texas Hill Country; and (7) Texoma.

[3] Tex. Alco. Bev. Code § 101.673.

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