Willamette Valley Vineyards has received what it believes is the first federal government label approval of resveratrol content, an antioxidant, on wine. The winery's '02 Vintage Selection Pinot Noir label was approved to list resveratrol, and its content and '03 Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir label includes the same plus the explanation of resveratrol: "Pinot Noir develops a natural defense against botrytis (mold) in our moist, cool climate -- the antioxidant resveratrol."
The company's later filing to the Alcohol, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the U.S. Department of Treasury, which contained this language on its '04 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir label, was rejected. At that time, the TTB stated, "You may not make curative or therapeutic claims on labels or create misleading associations between the consumption of alcohol and health per 27 CFR 4.39 (h) (i). Delete reference to the word 'resveratrol.'"
Bernau said the winery's legal counsel has advised that each label approval or rejection is independent of each other, thus the approvals received are valid unless and until later rescinded by the agency. The winery's legal counsel is preparing an appeal of the '04 Pinot Noir label rejection on the grounds that stating from where the antioxidant resveratrol comes and its molecules per liter is well within the law.
"We have been careful to avoid making any health claims on the label and related materials associated with resveratrol and rather have focused on its presence and the reason for its presence in our wine," said Jim Bernau, winery founder and president. "Clearly, the two prior label approvals by the TTB confirm there must be at least one person within their own agency who agrees with our view."
Bernau said he has been exploring the tendency for Pinot Noir to produce high amounts of the antioxidant resveratrol ever since Cornell researcher LeRoy Creasy showed the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape grown in moist, cool climates produces the most resveratrol. Creasy believes the fall climates of New York and Oregon's Willamette Valley may be the best for growing wine grapes rich in this antioxidant.
Creasy has generalized wine with greater than 10 micromolar (molecules by liter) of resveratrol are considered to be extraordinary. Tests show many of Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noirs range from 19 to a high of 71 micromolar. It was the '04 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir which was found to contain 71 micromolar, a higher resveratrol content than in any wine in the Creasy study.
"The lab results on our wines made from our Estate Vineyard are so high we are thinking of calling these vines our 'heart vines,'" Bernau said.
In addition to planning to appeal the TTB's rejection of the later label submission, Bernau is seeking legislation in the Oregon legislature to permit the sale of Oregon wine in Oregon which lists antioxidants and their content. Currently, Oregon law requires a federally approved label for any wine to be sold in Oregon. This legislation, if successful, would permit the sale if the TTB rejection was made solely on grounds that the label listed the antioxidants.
"It has been an exciting discovery to find the grape we love to grow here in our climate is so unique in this regard," Bernau explained. "As a grower, it is an amusing irony that the botrytis I fight some years more than others is stimulating the vine to produce so much of this antioxidant. Our tests over the six vintages ('99-'04) show this pattern."
"It is my hope that continued recognition by the public and public policy makers toward the unique attributes of wine will support legal changes which at a minimum allow wine producers to voluntarily list antioxidants on the label," Bernau said.