NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Naming Wines At The ATF

February 1, 1999

Few Americans probably realize it, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is in the habit of naming wines -- and a recent decision there has U.S. vintners fuming.

  • The ATF decided in 1996 that, after a three-year phaseout, it would no longer allow the designation "Johannisberg" on Riesling wines, even though the name had appeared on 95 percent of American Rieslings for almost a century.
  • The agency said that it wanted to eliminate misleading references in labeling -- so the word was forbidden as of January 1, 1999.
  • The ATF decision forced the wineries concerned to hire lawyers to try to get the decision reversed.
  • The name "Johannisberg" has long been used to distinguish the premium White Riesling from other varieties that are considered inferior, wine experts report.

U.S. vintners say they will have to spend millions of dollars to educate Johannisberg Riesling purists about the apparent disappearance of the wine -- or lose significant market share to imported Rieslings.

ATF says it should probably have allowed more time to phase out the name, and will take comments until March 8 on extending its use.

Source: Cindy Skrzycki, "Another Grape Moment in History for the ATF," Washington Post, January 29, 1999.


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