The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approved the voluntary labels in early February. However, Senator Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who objects to placing any reference to wine's health benefits on labels, has introduced legislation in an attempt to roll back that decision and prevent future use of such labels.
Sonoma County-based Carmenet placed one of the two approved statements on the back label of its 1997 Dynamite Cabernet Sauvignon, released earlier this month. The winery chose the statement, "The proud people who made this wine encourage you to consult your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption."
The other approved statement, written by the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade organization, reads, "To learn the health effects of wine consumption, send for the Federal Government's 'Dietary Guidelines for Americans,'" followed by mailing and Internet addresses.
All wine labels must still carry warning labels advising pregnant women not to drink and that alcohol can impair the ability to operate cars or machinery.
Carmenet was just about to print its Dynamite labels at the time the new health statements were approved, according to Chalone president and CEO Tom Selfridge. "We have always felt that moderate wine consumption with meals is part of a healthy lifestyle," he said. "If there is medical research that supports this view, then we feel we should let our customers know that this information is available." Chalone will also place the health labels on all of its 1998 Echelon brand wines.
Other wineries are expected to follow suit, but it could be months before the labels show up on many other bottles. Wine Institute spokeswoman Gladys Horiuchi said several wineries have called to inquire about the new wording, but she expected it to take time for each of them to redesign their labels and get the necessary BATF approval for any changes.
The only other winery that has publicly announced it is using the new message on any of its bottles is Laurel Glen Vineyard in Sonoma County. Owner Patrick Campbell first wrote the wording chosen by Carmenet and sought approval several years ago to put it on his Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1993. As soon as the wording was approved this year, the old labels were replaced on remaining bottles of the 1993 Reserve, though the wine is no longer sold at retail. Laurel Glen's upcoming bottlings of Terra Rosa and Quintana, to be retailed in May, will carry the new message as well.
For more on the health label issue:
To learn more about wine and health:
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions