The Science of Wine Varietal Labeling Regulations: The Cases of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah
Federal regulations govern wine labeling in the United States, and set out particular standards of grape identity for the contents of a bottle. For example, a wine labeled "zinfandel" may contain up to 25% other grapes, but must be at least 75% zinfandel. Over the past two decades genetic techniques have begun to reveal the biological underpinnings of named grape varieties, but the law has yet to catch up. In at least some cases, the existing regulations identify legally valid grape names that only poorly match the underlying tangle of genetic lineages growing in the field. Here, I focus on the stories of zinfandel and petit syrah, two grapes that have putative synonyms used in other countries. Genetic testing has revealed that in both cases the synonyms do, in fact, refer to the same grape lineages that are widely sold in the United States as zinfandel and petite syrah, respectively. Yet the rulemakings to accept the synonyms as valid have reached different ends. I attempt to explain these different outcomes and what they suggest about the relationships among regulation, biology, and commerce with respect to wine in the United States.
Ryan P. Kelly. "The Science of Wine Varietal Labeling Regulations: The Cases of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah" (Working Paper) (2011).
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