Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Where are the lines drawn in the alcohol world?

By Doug Fabbioli

Where are the lines drawn in the alcohol world?

Beer, wine or liquor? How do you make what, who sells it and how is it regulated? I must admit, I have learned a few things about this subject over the past few decades. When working with alcohol products that are based on crops that grow locally, I have had to study up on the regulations and enforcement of those regulations in the industry.

My first venture into the grey area of wine was with our Raspberry Merlot. It seems that putting the word “Raspberry” on equal footing as “Merlot” will lower the credibility of this noble wine grape. The feds have pushed hard to deny my label approval, but I choose to stay grandfathered in and keep the name.

As we went to make our port wines, I started working with a local distillery who distilled our base pear wine to a high proof product that I then blended back into the base to create the style I was looking for. So I can have high proof brandy in the winery, but I can’t sell it. Fortunately over the past few years, Virginia has raised the max alcohol level for wine from 18% to 21%. This change gives us the artistic freedom to make the products that fit our style and that customers are looking for.

The ciders were an easy fit for us to make as the licensing is the same, although the definition of cider now includes pear base rather than just apple. Usually these are 4-8% alcohol with some spritz in the product. Remember these are based in fruit but not grapes.

Beer is a product where the alcohol comes from the fermentation of malted grains but it is not distilled. The brewers can add fruit, fruit flavors, juices and such but the alcohol comes from the grains rather than the sugars of the fruit. As far as I can tell, mixing fermented fruit and fermented grains is not a legal product although I think if it is distilled, it doesn’t matter unless it’s kosher.

Now if you are looking into mead, honey based wines, a melomel has fruit blended into the mead. If you are adding spices, that is another style and I’m not going there.

I am going into these definitions and distinctions because there is a lot of crossover in style and customer preference. A number of wineries in the area are adding a brewery operation on site to satisfy the customer demands. Some breweries are adding wineries for the same purpose. We have been growing hops for years and make a hopped cider for those beer lovers who choose not to venture into our wine world. The regulation world has done what they could to accommodate the businesses, but have had barriers as well. When these products get out of the tasting room and into the market place that is where the real confusion starts. Let’s leave Wegmans, Total Wine, and the other shops alone for this month.

If you drink wine, try a beer. If you prefer wine, ask about a beverage at a brewery that might be more to your preference. Style, artistry and flavor may need to be regulated in the craft beverage world, but they will not be held back. Especially here in DC’s Wine Country!

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