Gluten-Free Wine Labeling

Gluten-Free Wine Labeling: The FDA has not yet issued a final rule on the use of the term “gluten-free” on food labels, but the TTB is issuing an interim policy on gluten content statements in the labeling and advertising of wines, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.

The TTB has received requests from various alcohol beverage industry members who wish to use gluten-free statements on their labels and in advertisements. Pending the issuance of a final rule by FDA, TTB is providing interim guidance on the use of the term “gluten-free” on alcohol beverage labels and in advertisements subject to TTB’s authority under the FAA Act. In the absence of a regulatory definition of the term “gluten-free,” TTB believes that the term will be interpreted by consumers of alcohol beverages to mean that the product contains no gluten.

Sound familiar?  Think about sulfite-free labeling. Many drinkers interpret sulfite-free wines to mean no sulfites. But that isn’t the case.  By definition, the term ‘gluten-free’ implies no gluten, but in practice a zero level does not exist.

This is where it get a little tricky. Wine is made from grapes, not grains, so it is naturally gluten-free.  But according to the TTB, there are a few things to take into consideration with the final bottled product.  For example,

[quote]A wine fermented from grapes, or a vodka distilled from potatoes, may be labeled “gluten-free” only if the producer used good manufacturing practices, took adequate precautions to prevent cross-contamination, and did not use additives, yeast, or storage materials that contained gluten.[/quote]

Under TTBs interim policy, they will allow the use of a “gluten-free” claim in the labeling and advertising as long as the bottler of the product ensures that the claim is truthful and accurate. Although some industry members claim that their products have been processed to remove gluten, such claims cannot be properly verified without a scientifically valid method to measure the gluten content of the products.  TTB will not approve labels containing the above claims unless the label application contains a detailed description of the method used to remove gluten from the product, which should be less than 20 ppm (parts per million).

I assume the reason why a winery would want to promote gluten-free on the label is to follow the gluten-free food trend. From a marketing perspective, this could open up a whole new market, and hey, if it creates new wine drinkers, its all good.  But on the flip side,would this cause more consumer confusion? Would it lead to believing all wines contain gluten [above the 20 ppm threshold] unless the bottle has a gluten-free stamp?  We don’t want drinkers saying,  “I can’t drink wine because I am allergic to gluten.”

I also wonder if gluten-free labels would drive consumers away. Plenty of drinkers pass on wines stamped with “sulfite-free” or “organic” labeling.  Its not to say these wines are better or worse, its simply how the drinker perceives its quality or message in the bottle.  And if most allergic to gluten don’t have problems drinking wine, then I guess it comes down to what’s the point of labeling it as such? Hopefully, the marketers will keep the promotional strategies real. We don’t want to spend the next decade educating consumers on misleading gluten-free advertising.

What do you think? Is Gluten-Free Wine Labeling a good idea? And is it good or bad for the wine business?

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