Recently, the Tax and Trade Bureau, the TTB, posted guidelines as an aid to help wine producers and marketers decide when approval was required for changes in wine labels. These guidelines come after a year in which the TTB received almost 150,000 applications for labels - an increase of 10% over the prior year.
Generally, wine labels must be preapproved by the TTB after the producer/marketer files an application. If approved, the TTB issues a Certificate of Label Approval (“COLA”). After approval, the COLA recipient can sell and export wines with the approved labels. This process is set out in the Code of Federal Regulations beginning at 27 C.F.R. 4.1.
The TTB’s new guidelines, called “Allowable Changes to Approved Labels,” has examples of changes that do not require submission of an application for a new COLA. These guidelines can be found at http://www.TTB.gov/labeling/allowable_revisions.shtml#allowable.
The guidelines make it clear that removal of illustrations, changes in shapes and colors, and the addition of vintage dates are all allowable changes, without the need for a new COLA.
There can also be changes in the information regarding composition and production of the wines stated on the label without the need for a new COLA. For example, producers can add, change or delete the stated amount of acid or pH levels, the stated amounts of sugar in harvest and certain information about the producer.
The guidelines reflect more freedom for wine producers and marketers to redesign the appearance of the label without the need to follow the administrative morass. For example, a producer can delete or change an optional age statement changing a vintage date or organic claims without the need to apply and await the determination of TTB.
Certainly legally required statement can not be changed without a COLA. However, many of the questions are answered at the TTB’s website.