Time To Allow Use of Harvest Dates on Cider Labels

vintagedateThough we have addressed this issue before, it is worth repeating: It is important to the growing craft cider movement and to devotees of craft cider that cidermakers are legally able to place the harvest date on their bottles.

This issue arises once again for the Cider Journal after hearing from one of America’s best and most devoted cider makers that a label of theirs was rejected by the federal label approval process because it listed the harvest year on the back label. To the branch of the federal government that approves alcohol labels, listing the year during which the apples for a particular cider were harvested is considered a “false or misleading statement”.

This stems from the fact that nowhere in federal law does it explicitly state that a bottle of cider may carry a harvest or “vintage” date. Only wine merits an explicit mention of the conditions under which it may carry a vintage date.

Still, like wine, ciders will differ based on the character of the growing season in which they were grown. A cooler growing season might result in lower levels of sugar, resulting in lower alcohol levels and certainly in a different character of fruit, to name just on of the many ways weather impacts the character of the apples.

It turns out that cidermakers have the perfect vehicle to address the problem of harvest dates being prohibited on bottles of cider: The Cider Act.

The Cider Act is a bill that, if passed, would raise the threshold for both carbonation and alcohol in a cider before they are taxed at higher levels. These reforms are needed in order to both support and spur the growth of the American cider industry.

The Cider Act, known originally as H.R. 600, has been rolled into another bill entitled “the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act” (H.R. 2903) that would reduce excise taxes on a variety of alcoholic beverages as well as streamline regulations. IT WOULD BE VERY EASY TO AMEND H.R. 2903 TO INCLUDE A PROVISION THAT EXPLICITLY ALLOWS HARVEST DATES ON CIDER.

The best organization to affect this important change is the United States Association of Cider Makers, which is at work lobbying for passage of The Cider Act. It’s notable that there is no rational public policy or political reason not to attach a Harvest Date amendment to the bill. Put another way, no one opposes Harvest Dates on cider on principle.

To urge the United States Cider Association to take up the issue of amending The Cider Act to allow Harvest Dates on cider bottles email membership@ciderassociation.org and tell them “please work to amend The Cider Act (H.R.2903) to allow Harvest Dates and appellations on bottles of cider”.

You can also email the main sponsor of the Cider Act, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenhauer, and ask him to do the same.

6 Responses to “Time To Allow Use of Harvest Dates on Cider Labels”

  1. Darlene Hayes

    I wholeheartedly agree with the importance of harvest dates, but there is a wrinkle to consider. It is my understanding that in the wine industry a vintage date not only indicates the year of harvest but is tied to the region in which the grapes were grown, which generally is not that far from where the wine is made. (And please correct me if I’m wrong about this.) This is not always the case with apples, especially the more complex fruit that the cognoscenti associate with higher end ciders. Those apples, or their juice, might very well end up most of the way across the country before they end up being fermented. So if a cider maker in Colorado uses high quality apples grown in New Hampshire, what does a harvest date without the location in which they were grown really tell the consumer? In a perfect cider world we would have enough interesting apples available near to where the cider is made, but we’re not really there yet, which sucks for the cider maker that does grow or can otherwise source enough of these apples close to home.

  2. tomwark

    Hi Darlene…

    Yes, harvest dates are connected with place, by law and implication. In the wine industry it is not uncommon for a CA winery to make a Pinot from a single vineyar in Oregon. The Colorado cidery, might choose to put “New Hampshire” on the label along with the vintage date. But I don’t see this as an issue.

    The wine comparison is an apt one. A winery may put the state or the county on their label as the place of origin of their grapes, along with a vintage date. There is no reason that a cidery couldn’t start with this same scheme.


  3. Eric West

    The Cider Act focuses on carbonation and alcohol because those thresholds affect how most cidermakers are taxed at the federal level. The harvest date–while an important issue for some cidermakers–is nowhere near as vital.

    As you say, no one appears to oppose harvest dates. Once the original act becomes law, additional cider legislation should be easier to push through.

  4. Kate

    I think although important and a great idea, the harvest date issue would be better grouped with labeling requirements (whether they use foreign ingredients/concentrate, HFCS, etc) for future legislation. The CIDER Act is more about leveling the playing field for cidermakers as far as taxes.

  5. Richard Anderson

    It seems to me if the cider is under 7% the cider maker has the option of labeling under FDA rules per the FAA skipping over the TBA requirement to file a COLA and attendant rules. We put the place name on our labels at our distributors request but have never added the vintage year. An story about the term “vintage”, I once labeled our ciders as “Vintage Cider”, and was often asked what the vintage was, my reply was that it was the fact that the cider was made from “vintage” cider apples based on dated terminology used in the UK to describe established, recognized cider apples.


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