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A label to call your own

A nice wine can turn any get-together into something out of the ordinary, but for really special events you might want to consider serving wine with your own customized private label.

Given our thriving local wine industry, having your own label is easier and less expensive than you might think.

Of course, the labeling of wines is a matter of federal regulation. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Board is the agency that sets out wine label requirements and approves all label applications. You can find all manner of label information and approval forms on the TTB website. But for most people considering a private label, your best bet is to contact a winery that offers custom-crush services.

Custom crush refers to a winery that offers winemaking services to clients such as vineyard owners who don’t have a winery on their premises and need a place to process their grapes. At the most extensive level of service, the custom-crush facility receives the grapes, vinifies them, ages the wine, conducts blending trials with the client, bottles the wine, and returns the finished product ready for retail. In fact, by using a custom-crush facility it’s possible to establish a wine brand without owning either a vineyard (just buy grapes from someone else) or a winery. The essential thing that you must have is a label.

Which brings us back to the individual who is perhaps planning a special event, made more special with wines labeled for the occasion. Let’s say your wedding is set for summer and you need about 10 cases of wine, five white and five red. Now is the perfect time to check this item off your list.

One local custom-crush winery you might consult is Pallet Wine Company in Medford. Owner/winemaker Linda Donovan pioneered the dedicated custom crush business in the Rogue Valley and has gone through the label approval routine for her clients around a thousand times since Pallet opened in 2009.

The first step in getting your private label wedding wine, Donovan explains, is to talk about price — the amount of money you’ve allocated for your wine purchase. For Pallet, she says, think in terms of $10 to $15 per finished bottle. With your price range in mind, Donovan will offer samples of wines she has in inventory, either in barrel or already bottled and corked but not yet labeled or topped with capsules — known as “shiners” in the industry.

After you pick your wines, you choose from a selection of capsules (foil or plastic) and papers for your label. You provide the text for the label, “Smith and Jones Nuptials, July 25th, 2018,” and graphic design if you have an image you want to use. The winery will add other necessary information — percent alcohol by volume, sulfite statement, net contents (750 ml for a standard bottle), the varietal or blend name, vintage (year) for wines of a single harvest, appellation (recognized growing area), name and address of the bottling site, and health warning statement (government boiler plate). Some of these items will go on a back label. Once your label is assembled, the winery electronically submits it to the TTB for approval.

At this time of year, Donovan says, approvals can come back within several days. Later, when more wineries are putting labels into the system, it can take several weeks. Pallet has an in-house label printer, so once approval is received the job is all but done.

I have to end with this cautionary tale about weddings and wine labels. When my brother got married he must have bought his red wines at a discount, because the labels on those bottles were put on upside down. Ever curious about what wine I’m drinking and where it was made, I spotted an empty bottle and upended it so I could read the label. But, in fact, the bottle wasn’t empty, so I spent the rest of the wedding explaining how I got a huge wine stain down the front of my dress and listening to advice about how to get it out. As a wedding memento, I’d much rather have taken home a bottle with a private label.

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.