What Does "Vinted By" Mean?

Reading a wine label can be confusing. There's a lot of marketing being done to try to get you to buy a wine. Everything from fancy artwork to cute names. And then there's the back label that describes all about the aromas, flavors and quality of the wine.

But actually, the three most important things on a wine label are the vintage date, the place where the grapes were grown, and the grape(s) used to produce the wine. The vintage date tells you that 95% of the wine in the bottle had to be harvested in the year listed. The place (State, County, or AVA) on the label tells you that 85% of the wine comes from the listed location. And finally, the grape varietal identified on the label ensures that the wine is produced from at least 75% of that grape variety.

But then on the back label you'll see statements such as "Vinted and bottled by" or “Cellared and bottled by” along with a winery's name, city and state. This is where things get murky. These phrases are sometimes used when a label does not have their own winery and may have had little to do with the making of this wine. They may be buying grapes to produce wine or even buying bulk wine and bottle it themselves and just putting their "Winery" label on the bottle.

Under another scenario, the "Cellared and bottled by" wording must be used by law if, for example, a winery located in the Napa AVA is producing wines from grapes grown in Sonoma's Russian River Valley AVA. These wines are still the winemakers, but they can't claim to have produced the wine.

If it says “Produced and Bottle by” it means that, by law, 75% or more of the wine in that bottle must be made by the producer listed. If the wine bottle says “Made and Bottled” it means at least 10% of the wine is made by the winery or company listed.

Now don't get me wrong. These caveats on the back label don't imply anything about the quality of the wine. You just need to realize that someone other than the company listed on the label may have grown the grapes or made the wine.

Now, you may now be asking yourself "So how can I tell if a winery is actually growing the grapes and making the wine?"  We'll get to that next time. For now, cheers!

Special Designations on Wine Labels

In recent postings we've explored the information on U.S. wine labels.  We've seen that the labels are required to tell us about the type of wine, the AVA or location where it was produced, the vintage or year the grapes were harvested, the alcohol content, and if the wine contains sulfites as a preservative.  Then there are the other 'special designations' that appear on wine labels that are not regulated.

But first, we as consumers must realize that the label of any product is the primary selling tool. And hence, the label is going to contain some amount of marketing. And this comes in varying degrees.  On one end of the spectrum you will see very sophisticated labels on wines. These may done in fancy script with dark colors and may include metallic gold or silver trim.  This simple yet sophisticated label is certainly using marketing techniques to convince you, in subtle ways, that it is an outstanding wine. 

On the other end of the spectrum there are trendy labels with fancy artwork and cute or clever names. Again, these wines are looking to be exciting to a particular segment of wine buying market.

Then there are all the other labels out there that contain words such as "Reserve," "Private Reserve," "Vintner's Reserve," "Barrel Select," "Vintner's Blend," "Old Vine," and "Cellar Select."  These are just some of the marketing terms that are used on wine labels and, in the U.S., are not regulated.   Mostly they have little to no meaning.

Yes, wine makers do have 'Reserve' wines that are special, usually smaller production wines of very high quality. But, the odds of truly finding a bottle of 'Reserve' wine on a store shelf are low.  These are usually only sold directly through the winery or in high-end wine stores.  And you'll certainly be paying a hefty premium for a 'Reserve' wine.

And 'Old Vine' wines, often Zinfandels, may come from 'old' vines that produce wines with great depth of character. But, without any regulation on the term, the age of the vines is difficult if not impossible to truly know.  So, the vines may be 20 years old or they may be 100 years old. 

All the other terms are just marketing terms that get used on wine labels to try to get you to part with your money.  So, as always, buyer beware!  And start paying close attention to these terms on wine labels when you are shopping. You will find that some wine producers only make "Vintner's Reserve" wines and they are selling these 'special' wines in grocery stores and big box stores for $10 a bottle. Don't be fooled - become educated by reading, tasting and by visiting wineries.  Then you'll begin to truly find great wines without being swayed by the label.  Cheers!


What Can be Learned from a Wine Label?

When looking for a bottle of wine it's easy to be persuaded by the label.  But, too often, the persuasion comes from a fancy graphic on the label or a cute name.  There is actually a lot of good written information on the label of a wine bottle.  For this time, let's look at wine labels in the United States.

First, the wine type.  Although mandatory, the wine type may or may not be specific to the type of grapes used to produce the wine.  But, the label will tell you if the wine is a varietal (made from a specific grape) or a blend.  If a wine label specifies a varietal, such as a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon, it must be produced by using at least 75% of that grape type. Otherwise, wine producers refer to them as a "Blend" or "Table Wine."

Next, the location where the wine is from.  If the wine label refers to a state or county, at least 75% of the grapes used to produce the wine must have come from that location. Except in California, where if the label states "California" then 100% of the grapes must have come from within the state.  Then there are specific appellations or AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) such as 'Napa' or 'Sonoma.'  If a wine label states a specific AVA, then at least 85% of the grapes must have come from that region.

The vintage, or year when the grapes were harvested, is actually optional on US wine labels.  If a year is stated, then at least 85% of the wine must come from the harvest date shown.  But, if the wine is labeled with a specific AVA, then 95% of the grapes must come from the stated harvest date. The date on a wine label has nothing to do with when it was bottled or released, it simply refers to when the grapes were picked.

Then there are the 'special designations' on a bottle of wine. Words such as "Reserve" or "Private Reserve" may appear on the label, but there is no regulation on these terms in the US.  So, while a winemaker may use the term, it may or may not be anything more than a marketing tool.  But, if you do find that a winemaker produces a particular wine, say a Merlot,  and then produces a Merlot with a "Reserve" designation on the label, it generally means that it is higher quality or finer wine.

Estate wines are those where the wine is labeled "Estate Bottled." This means that the winery grew 100% of the grapes on its owned land, and the winery did all the wine making process (crushing, fermenting and bottling) on the same land.

Alcohol content is required by law to appear on the label.  And, a lot can be determined from this number. Generally, low alcohol content wines (10% or less) are going to be sweeter and higher alcohol content wines (12-14%) are going to be dryer.  So if you have a preference in the amount of sweetness in your wines, pay particular attention to this number.

Then sulfites. If wines contain sulfites, it must be stated on the label.  And generally, all wines are going to have sulfites because it's a preservative.  But, it is used in extremely low levels (approximately 50 parts per million). So, these level are usually undetectable or will go away with brief decanting. 

There's a quick overview of the technical terms on a wine label.  In future articles we'll dive into more specifics in each of these areas.  So get out there, read a few labels with this new found information, pick out a bottle of wine with either a fancy label or one from a great AVA such as Alexander Valley, and enjoy it. Cheers!