How to Read California Wine Labels

April 12, 2023

Wine labels are your first introduction into the wine you are selecting. It tells the story of the wine and the flavor profiles to expect when tasting. Most importantly the label represents the brand that you are purchasing from. Labels are crafted with specific design principles and must follow the California wine label requirements. This article will help you understand how to properly read California wine labels. 

You might be Thinking:

Well, then why are there pretty designs on the front of the label and no words?

This is because technically the front label that you’re seeing is ACTUALLY the back label according to the government! So when we go to get our labels approved for sale, we have to make sure the back label is up to par.

So, how do you read the wine label…?

On The Wine Label

Reading our 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Wine Label

On every California wine label it will state the following (You can use this guide to locate them on our label):

  • E. Name of the Winery
  • B. Name of the AVA (American Viticulture Area)
  • C. Name of the type of wine- this can be varietally specific i.e. Sauvignon Blanc or one of the approved styles of wine i.e. Rosé.
  • I. Alcohol Content
  • H. Size of bottle and amount of wine in it.
  • G. Whether or not it contains sulfates
  • E. Where the wine was bottled.
  • F. Government Warning

Some of the additions on labels that are not required but are often found are the following:

  • A. Vintage (or non Vintage)
  • D. Vineyard Designation
  • Specialty Name of the Wine
  • Amount of bottles produced

It’s important to familiarize yourself with these features so that when you select a bottle, you know what you’re selecting.

California Wine Label Requirements

California has specific rules and regulations that give the consumer information on the label. These requirements also guide the wineries to make sure that they have the correct content on their labels. Specific wines have a ratio they must follow in order to be called one of these names. In California, a wine such as Chardonnay, can be 75% Chardonnay grapes and 25% any other variety.

With that, to have a vintage, the wine must include 95% of the grapes harvested that specific year. The other 5% can be grapes blended in from a different year. This is most commonly used with vintage sparkling wines made in Champagne traditional method to provide consistency.  

To have the California distinction on wines, 100% of the grapes need to come from California. Other states’ regulations on this vary, but know that when you see a California wine, you are receiving a true California grown wine. Similarly to claim a distinction of the region of the wines 85% of the grapes need to come from that viticultural area. 

Vegan, Biodynamic, Organic, and Sustainability Labeled Designations

If you want to read a wine label, you might also come across one of these special symbols. You may be familiar with these special symbols on food products and beverages. They are often small but show the certification of the product as being produced a certain way. The most common certifications found on wine bottles are vegan, biodynamic, organic, and sustainable. To earn these symbols on your label you must follow specific criteria that must be certified. 

The most common symbol that should be familiar is USDA Organic. This symbol is placed on products that follow organic farming and production practices by not using chemical insecticides in their methods. Some wines may include “Made with Organic Grapes.” This means that the grapes used were organic but the process as a whole cannot be certified organic. 

The V symbol of the label means that the wine is vegan. This may shock some people who thought wine was already vegan. However, at some wineries egg whites are used in the filtration process making the wine not vegan. 

For your wine to be biodynamic the farming process must take into account the health of the soil. Biodynamics speaks to a holistic approach to farming using natural elements and the spirit of nature to promote positive growth. Vineyards use biodynamics, tracking moon and sun cycles, exploring biodiversity, and using beneficial insects to aid the health of grape vines. This certification is probably the most challenging to find on wine bottles. Not many wineries qualify for this certification. 

Lastly, the sustainable symbol. This is given to those who follow sustainable practices that help the planet. AJA is proud to do our part in the sustainable movement by using recycled AJA wine bottles for our candle line. We are putting in efforts to be certified sustainable by 2025.  

Reading AJA Wine Labels

Our wine labels are not only designed beautifully but offer the proper information following California law. AJA labels are fit with the vintage of the wines, the variety, the region and crafted descriptions on the back label. The wines we produce are certified California wines from classified regions (American Viticulture Areas) throughout the California Coast. The wines from our vineyards in the Malibu Coast such as the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon bear an estate distinction which requires a minimum of 95% of the grapes to be produced on property. We are proud to produce 100% estate wines from our Malibu Estate. With each variety of wine we have carefully crafted a description that gives a little more information about the wine and its story in relation to our AJA family. We provide specifications on every wine in our shop.

On the bottom right hand side of the back label is the alcohol content per volume. You will also find our logo that certifies your wine was produced and bottled by our winery. 

I hope this helps you properly read a wine label!

We want to thank you all for your continued support! Our new 2022 Chardonnay, Rosé, and Sauvignon Blanc will be officially available to the public April 15th on our redesigned website. We welcome you to this next AJA chapter!



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