In a report circulated Friday by the National Association of Beverage Importers (NABI), the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has “abandoned” its lab analysis requirement for Brunello di Montalcino.
News of the TTB’s willingness to lift the laboratory analysis requirement and to work with the Italian government on a mutually acceptable solution will come as a relief not only to Brunello producers but also to U.S. importers, distributors, and retailers. Although the TTB has issued statements on its requests submitted to the Italian government and its threatened ban of imports, the legal status of wine already in the U.S. was unclear.
According to the report (below), the TTB recognized that its request for laboratory analysis for all wines was not “feasible” and that “innocent producers” would be punished as a result.
In April, 2008, the TTB had requested a list of Brunello producers implicated in the current Brunello controversy. On May 9, after the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello producers association) and the Italian government had failed to respond, the Americans informed the Consortium that unless they received the list by June 23 (the original date was set for June 9 but was later changed), they would block imports of Brunello unaccompanied by laboratory analysis certifying that the wine was made from 100% Sangiovese. Evidently, following meetings last week between the Italian Minister of Agriculture, Luca Zaia, and his American counterpart, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, the Americans have agreed to lift the requirement.
The following letter was sent Friday to NABI members.
Friday, June 13, 2008: This morning NABI received an update relative to the ongoing TTB action involving Brunello designated wine exported to the US market. In a call from Italy it was learned that the Italian government will continue to defer to the investigating magistrate. The primary TTB request for the names of the firms under investigation for alleged wrongdoing has not been met. After reviewing the situation with Italian authorities TTB representatives understand this position and will let the investigation take its course. However their demand for assurance that the Brunello standard is met for product sold in the US continues.
Lacking information concerning those under investigation TTB and the consortium moved on to methods for assuring the integrity of product in the marketplace. During these discussions it became clear to TTB that requiring a laboratory analysis for shipment to the US is not feasible. They have abandoned this requirement.
An alternative agreeable to TTB and the consortium is a declaration from any office of the Italian government that with reasonable assurance the product meets the rules for the sale of Brunello in the Italian market. This declaration is similar to that required of US product sold to certain export markets. The declaration may be broad in scope to cover an entire brand and vintage. TTB suggested that the declaration could come from any government entity including that responsible for quality assurance.
It was also learned that the Italian Ministry of Agriculture met with the US Ambassador to Italy with the goal of removing the TTB demand letter. The Ambassador in consultation with the US Department of Agriculture reported back to the Italians that the controlling authority is TTB.
The new approach discussed in this update will be the subject of a TTB Industry Circular for release sometime next week. Both TTB and the Brunello Consortium are working on language that would be mutually acceptable. Although it appears that TTB is significantly backing away from its aggressive position on a shipment by shipment laboratory analysis, obtaining any certification can be problematic. NABI has reaffirmed with TTB our position that innocent producers and importers will suffer significant adverse consequences as a result of this controversy. We have told TTB that the approaching June 23 deadline is not workable. Meeting a certification requirement from the Italian government will require reasonable time to accomplish. We anticipate more information following the return of the TTB delegation to the US on Monday, June 16.