Take a look at the wine bottle above. Where does the wine come from? If you said “Texas” you and Costco (the largest wine retailer in the country) are in the same boat. Below is the shelf label which reproduces the text on the back of the bottle. If gushes “Selected from our finest lots. Careful maturation with French Oak brings deep flavors of dark fruit and cocoa”. Costco is usually meticulous with product descriptions, but was likely fooled by this patter in also labeling the wine’s origin as ‘Texas’.
In actual fact, this wine was most likely made from California grapes in California, and then shipped to Becker in Fredericksburg, Texas in tanker trucks where it was bottled and labelled. We can’t be certain because Becker does not tell us. You would expect the label to clearly state the origin, but it can legally sidestep doing so by using an artifice in Texas law in small print on the back label. There we find the phrase “For Sale In Texas Only” (FSITO). FSITO takes the wine out of interstate commerce. As a result, federal labelling law does not apply. Texas state law, far too lax, does. Unlike Federal law, it does not require the origin of the grapes to be stated on the label. Becker’s label would be illegal in interstate commerce.
Why would the winery want to hide the origin of the grapes? Because they think sales will be better if people (you, me, and Costco) think that they are buying a Texas wine than what this wine actually is. The winery could have been quite open by labelling the wine as ‘American” (a broader and legally valid appellation). Another winery based in the Texas Hill Country, Fall Creek, had a wine on the same shelf at the Costco where I saw this and they labelled its origin ‘American’. So it can be done.
The important point with this labeling is not just that it misleads Costco and discredits the whole Texas wine industry in their minds, it is that when consumers find out they were fooled they just stop buying Texas wine altogether: “If I get California wine, I will buy the real thing” is the response. Usually for less money as well.
That hurts the real Texas wine industry which is populated by Texas wineries making Texas wine out of Texas grapes, and real growers cultivating real acreage.
What we need is state legislation or a rules change to require any FSITO wine to also carry the place of origin of the grapes on the front label in a font at least 20 points high and in a highly contrasting color. Then we will know what is Texas wine, and what isn’t.