The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has updated its 30-year-old statewide wine labeling regulations, at the urging of the Oregon Winegrowers Association.
Oregon wines may now contain 95 percent of fruit from a place specified on the label and still carry the geographic designation on the label. Previous Oregon regulations required 100 percent.
The change was made to allow for real-world cellar practices, such as the practice of “topping” when the wine in a barrel evaporates.
The ruling preserves the 90 percent minimum requirement for varietal labeling of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Of the 72 winegrape varieties known to grow in Oregon, 18 will now be allowed to be blended with up to 25 percent of other varieties and still carry the name of the primary grape.
The 11 new varieties include Carmenere, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel. The remaining 54 varieties, which comprise more than 90 percent of Oregon wine production, will still require a minimum 90 percent of a specific grape variety to carry the label.
Oregon producers may now also use either Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio on Oregon wine labels. Prior to these changes, only Pinot Gris could be used on the bottle because the 1977 regulations permitted the use of only one name.
How do these changes impact consumers? That’s a good question.
While the revisions make sense for the vintners, they may cause confusion among wine drinkers. Reason: the various percentages now in place to define varietal wines. As we understand it, a “varietal” may now be defined as 75 percent or more of the blend for some wines, 90 percent or more for others, or 95 percent or more for still others.
In many cases, consumers will need to ask questions in order to know what they’re actually buying.
From the very beginning days of Vinesse, we’ve made it a practice to include the varietal make-up, on a percentage basis, of any featured wine selections. On occasion, the exact percentages are considered proprietary, so only the varieties are listed.
The new regulations in Oregon give the vintners great latitude in their blending, without requiring the wineries to provide the precise varietal makeup on their labels.
So, as we mentioned earlier, consumers will need to ask questions when visiting certain Oregon wineries.