The term “estate” is a tricky one for wine drinkers, as it brings up images of old world wine estates, a grizzled vintner working the vines. (Or, whatever the modern, local equivalent is.) In reality, however, the term is confusingly regulated and often misleading.

The exact verbiage that is regulated on US wine labels is “estate bottled.” In order to use this term, the grapes must have been grown on land owned or controlled by the winery, then crushed, fermented and bottled at the winery. This means, however, that other permutations of the word “estate” can be used freely and without any specific regulations.

Let’s look at a few examples of this in action. I want to emphasize, however, that I am NOT suggesting any of the mentioned wineries are doing anything wrong here! I’m just trying to share some examples of potentially misleading language on wine labels so consumers can make more informed decisions.

Armstrong Valley, in Halifax, PA, as one example, uses the term “estate reserve” on a number of their wines, choosing two terms that have specific connotations in the wine industry but are not explicitly regulated in the US. In other words, this label seems to suggest the grapes were grown on the estate, and that the wine was aged for longer (typically due to higher quality), yet there is no legal requirement to actually follow those suggestions. The winery can use this label with legal impunity.

Another way wineries can sneak the word “estate” on their labels is to add it into the winery name itself. There’s Karamoor Estate, for example, whose wines are all made from estate grapes (AFAIK). But there’s also Folino Estate, who makes a variety of different wines: some from estate fruit, others from fruit sourced from the west coast. Yet because of their name, every bottle has the word “estate” on it. (In fairness, Folino emphasizes the term for estate-grown wines, e.g., “2022 Estate Merlot,” but a person who picks up their Cabernet Sauvignon – American appellation – might now know that.)

I do want to re-emphasize: using the term “estate” does not mean the winery is lying. It just means that the TTB is not double-checking for us. Or, in other words, if the label doesn’t say “estate-bottled,” don’t assume anything about an “estate” claim.