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Dear Dr. Vinny,

How is the term “estate” regulated on wine labels in the U.S.?

—Lampsidis A., Athens, Greece

Dear Lampsidis,

There’s only one scenario where the term “estate” is regulated by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB for short) of the federal government. That’s when a wine is labeled as “estate bottled.” In order to call a wine "estate bottled," specific criteria must be met: First, 100 percent of the wine has to come from grapes grown on land controlled or owned by the winery; second, the grapes have to be crushed, fermented, aged and bottled in a continuous process all in the same place; finally, all of that has to happen in the same American Viticultural Area, or AVA, that’s listed on the bottle. An estate-bottled wine can’t use broader appellations like just listing it is from the United States or California.

Outside of that, wineries use “estate” in ways that aren’t regulated. Typically, the term refers to a scenario in which a brand owns and farms its own vineyard and uses those grapes in their wine (versus just purchasing grapes). I think most of the time, it’s used in that spirit correctly, as a way to communicate to wine lovers an expectation of consistency, as well as a particular style of wine that’s dedicated to expressing a site (versus a style that’s focused on blending grapes from different vineyards together). Then again, since the term isn’t regulated in that way, I can call a wine label Dr. Vinny’s Estate Winery and technically not own a single vine.

—Dr. Vinny

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