Nanny State of the Week: Texas messes with winemaking

Kevin Glass
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Mar 20, 2017 11:25 AM
Nanny State of the Week: Texas messes with winemaking
Part 120 of 120 in the series Nanny State of the Week
Courtesy of Flickr user Juan Pedraza

NO LABELS: Texas has proposed new labeling requirements for Texan wineries that could benefit incumbents and hurt small businesses.

Federal law says that winery labeling can use a “made in” label for any wines made with 75 percent home-grown grapes. The Texas legislature is considering an update to that rule: if the legislation passes, wines will have to use 100 percent home-grown Texas grapes to use a “made in Texas” label.

The bill, sponsored by Dripping Springs Republican Rep. Jason Isaac, would establish a 100 percent requirement. But Isaac told the Texas Tribune that he would be open to phasing in the mandate rather than instituting it immediately.

Sounds innocuous, but both winemakers and the grape-growing industry in Texas are arguing that the labeling law would give an incumbent advantage to bigger winemakers and vineyards and hurt smaller businesses.

Winemaking is a delicate art and heavily subject to the weather. Winemakers whose small vineyards get compromised by storms or cold fronts don’t want to have to re-label their wines in the worst-case scenario of major weather events that force them to look elsewhere for grapes.

As the Texas Tribune reported:

Grape growers and vineyard owners are scattered on the labeling issue. Paul Bonarrigo, co-owner of Messina Hof Winery, the state’s third-largest wine producer in 2016, said he was opposed to the measure, and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association said they don’t back Isaac’s bill, either.

Brian Heath, owner of Grape Creek Vineyards in Fredericksburg, said the bill could help the industry down the road, but if it passed now, he said it would limit winemakers’ options during unexpected events — like when strong Texas storms ruin grape crops. “You can’t predict what you can’t predict,” he said.

Texas isn’t traditionally known as a major wine-producing region, but the industry is taking root in the state.

The Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association published a study in 2015 that said the industry is worth more than $2 billion to the Texas economy.

The measure would add Texas to a short list of states with similar 100 percent requirements.

California and Oregon both require 100 percent of grapes to have been homegrown for the wine to be labeled as from the state.

Other states have state laws requiring a higher percentage than the 75 percent federal baseline.

But Texas’s industry is not as entrenched as California or Oregon’s — partly because the climate is a more nontraditional one for growing grapes — and regulating it as others are regulated could end up harming more than helping.