For those of you reading this that can tell me what the acronym COLA stands for, this post is for you. Even for anyone whose first thought was “what does soda have to do with wine?”, but work in the wine industry this post is still a good one to read through.
COLA stands for certificate of label approval. This is granted to wineries for their labels by the federal government. This is generally applied for ahead of bottling time. After applying for many of these approvals over the years, and learning things “the hard way” I’d like to pass along my main tips to the younger generation compliance trainees so you don’t have to go through some of the pitfalls that I did.
Tip # 1: Plan Ahead. Though the approval process is much faster than years ago, it still isn’t an overnight process.
All too many times I saw wineries have their labels printed before getting label approval. Not a good idea. In almost all cases wineries know when they will be bottling their wines. Simply planning at least a month out at a time to get the label approval process going is the minimum I recommend.
Tip # 2: Go Online! It used to be the only route for label approvals was the “old-fashioned” paper and snail mail route. A few years ago the TTB introduced their COLAs Online system which is the electronic version of label approvals. I got signed up with this several months after it came out and never looked back. This process has so many advantages over the paper route. It is worlds faster (I’ve seen approvals come back in 4 days), gives you a readily available electronic copy for your files, and cuts down on room for errors.
Tip # 3: Know your blends. Though it is not always the case, the most effective route for label approvals should be by the person or department that also keeps track of the wines throughout their life. This person or department knows all the details about each wine blend, so therefore is best prepared to know what each wine will or won’t qualify for on its label. They know what the percentages are for varietals, for appellations, as well as the alcohol level of the wines, and specific details about how the grapes were grown or the wine was made.
Why are these of value? Because they feed directly into all that information that lives on a wine label, and there are specific percentage requirements and other regulations that direct their use. These are also the same items that wineries can be audited for by the TTB in the event of an audit at their site. Check your wine blends ahead of coming up on bottling time, then give the decision makers a set of paramters that a wine would qualify for on it’s label, from vintage to varietal to appellation to alcohol percent, plus any other details that may be referred to on the label so they then have the best information to make their decisions from.