From Water to Wine

Whenever I travel beyond the Bay Area I’m always surprised by how cheap gas and food are in other parts of the country and am equally floored by the lack of care over water conservation. While visiting family on the East Coast, it was not uncommon for someone to leave the kitchen with water running or to see sprinklers spraying at whim during rainstorms. I chastised, they responded with, “It’s only water.” I know better at this point in my life than to explain the nuances of living in Drought Country USA, lest I set myself up for another one of their diatribes about how Californians are “crazy” and, among other things, too health conscious.

For these reasons I opted not to mention how their coveted vino may soon display the same dastardly nutritional information oft seen on food packages. At the end of the year the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) outlined rules for mandatory labeling of nutrition, allergen and ingredient information for beer, wine and spirits, which is expected to go into play by the end of 2023. The move was sparked by the federal government, which at last responded to a 20-year effort led by public interest groups lobbying for more detailed labeling. The labeling regulations, if enacted, will add to an already lengthy list of compliance issues to which wineries need to adhere. It also raises questions about what is considered an “ingredient” in the wine realm, how will “processing aids” be defined, and how will additives and substances that occur naturally during the winemaking process be treated.

In response, the Wine Institute, which advocates on behalf of the California wine industry, developed a Nutrition Information Calculator to preemptively assist wineries faced with the task of accurately labeling their product. Winemakers will input a description, alcohol percentage, typical sugar range, and other criteria and the tool will spit out values including calories, sodium, protein and more. Also, in response to the notice, the Wine Market Council, a leader in market research on U.S. wine-consumer buying habits, attitudes and trends, conducted a study to measure perceptions around ingredient and nutritional labeling on wine bottles. The study revealed that 38% of respondents felt ingredient lists would be influential in their decision to purchase certain wines, with one third of those surveyed in favor of displaying the information in print or QR code format.

In the European Union, where nutrition and ingredient declarations will be required by December 2023, the industry is pushing for the adoption of nutritional labeling rules specifically for wine. If the efforts fail, wine products will be required to follow the same regulations set forth for food labeling. Currently in the U.S., only wines under 7% alcohol by volume (ABV) are required to display nutrition facts and ingredients, which must follow the same Food & Drug Administration requirements as food. The TTB is expected to gather input from wineries over the next year prior to enacting the change.

One sector not as likely to be concerned with the display of ingredients is composed of wineries and imbibers who have embraced the “natural wine” movement, also known as 0/0 winemaking. This low-intervention approach means unfiltered, fewer additives and no sulfur dioxide. While the category currently only represents 1% of worldwide wine production, it’s the fastest growing premium wine sector with millennials who trend toward healthier choices and organic everything. Since natural winemakers are working toward minimal intervention it means a commitment to organic or biodynamic vineyards, which simplifies the ingredient list to: grapes.

Around town

The Napa Chamber of Commerce appointed Jeri Hansen as its new president and chief executive officer; she will work with the organization to promote the community’s economic vitality through leadership development, advocacy, facilitation and education. Hansen has a decorated career having served as chair of the Workforce Alliance of the North Bay, past state president of California Women for Agriculture, and currently sits as president of the board for the Napa Valley Exposition (25th District Agricultural Association), where she has served as a board member since 2014. Hansen said in a release, “I’m excited to continue to lead the growth of our organization. The Chamber of Commerce is the collective voice for business and focuses on public policy issues, but it is also an organization that creates camaraderie and builds community. I am eager to expand on these roles.”

In February, Yountville held its sixth annual short film festival, which brought 100 films and a boon to the local economy during an otherwise quiet time in the valley. The event featured 20 film blocks held at two popup cinemas at the Yountville Community Center and Bardessono Hotel & Spa. Filmmaker Q&A sessions, VIP parties and themed wine tastings marked the fest with events including the Cuvée and Cabernet Cinema, Bubbles and Brunch and Jessup Cellars’ Gourmet Popcorn & Wine Pairing Screening.

As I close out this column, it follows a month of rising tides, flood warnings and a weeklong rain streak. While I don’t think water will ever become as blasé as it is to my Florida-dwelling family, my hope is the wet season continues along this water-filled path and delivers us out of drought-land territory.

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