Review: Saperica 1st Annual Saperavi Festival Finger Lakes

On May 14, 2022, an event took place in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York that was a landmark moment in the history of Saperavi, not only for the future direction of Saperavi in the northeastern U.S. but for all of North America. While Saperavi has been on a steadily ascending arc for several years this gathering of Saperavi winemakers, growers, and enthusiasts will prove to be the catalyst that fuels Saperavi’s meteoric rise into the conscience of the American wine lovers.

Saperica http://saperica.org, the nonprofit founded by Lasha Tsatava and Erika Frey, held its inaugural Saperavi Festival at the iconic Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery overlooking Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, New York. The one-day event was a sellout with more than three hundred guests enjoying winetastings and delicious traditional Georgian cuisine prepared by Chama Mama, a Georgian-themed restaurant from New York City. The trade and media portion of the festival drew over fifty participants that were greeted with opening remarks from Fred Frank and Saperica co-founder Erika Frey. Keynote speaker Lado Uzunashvili delivered a live virtual presentation on the importance of Saperavi that was followed by guest speaker Darra Goldstein (Flavors of Georgia). Both presentations can be viewed on Saperica’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUb_6pPRupQ Closing remarks were presented by Saperica co-founder Lasha Tsatava with a special thank you to Meaghan Frank for her tireless efforts to make the Festival a resounding success.

I ask some of the contributors to share thoughts and impressions about the festivities and their vision for Saperavi in North America.

Lasha Tsatava, Director @ Boston Sommelier Society and co-founder of Saperica Inc.

When we first started to tell the story of Saperavi and its connection to Georgian culture and the history of wine, we saw how people’s eyes lit up and we wanted to grow that feeling in FLX and beyond. At the Saperavi Festival’s Trade & Media event, I made it clear in the closing remarks, that our organization’s goals are, as a minimum, to make Saperavi a premier red grape variety in the Finger Lakes region and the ultimate goal is to build a Georgian Cultural Center with Marani (Georgian traditional cellar with qvevris) in Finger Lakes, NY. The 1st annual Saperavi Festival has reconfirmed the sensibility of these goals.

Fred Frank, President, and CEO of Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, grandson of wine legend Dr. Konstantin Frank & Meaghan Frank’s father

We were honored to host this first Saperavi Festival at our historic winery. I am sure Konstantin was looking down from the heavens with pride to see all the attention and acceptance that his beloved Saperavi was receiving from the hundreds in attendance. Konstantin was the first to plant Saperavi in the United States in the late 1950s in his vineyard above Keuka Lake. He was a big fan of this variety for its historic pedigree originating in Georgia and believed it would have a great future in the Eastern United States. Saperavi vines are cold hardy and the wines are of high quality with deep color. We look forward to the next Saperavi Festival and continued acceptance of this historic grape variety.  

Jim Baker, owner/winemaker of Chateau Niagara Winery, located on the Niagara Lake Plain, Newfane New York

My thoughts on the festival are quite positive. The media section contained two presentations featuring my good friend Lado Uzunashvili, and Darra Goldstein. Lado is an old friend and did a great overview of Saperavi in Georgia and the world, including history and all sorts of technical information on the grape in several world locations. He did a comparison of our winery and a Georgian location. Darra Goldstein presented a history of Georgian food and culture. Food was served up from Chamma Mama, a Georgian restaurant in NYC. It was truly a Georgian feast. We got to taste wines from a number of American and Georgian producers. It was surprising how well we held our own against some stunning Georgian producers. The afternoon consisted of more Georgian feasting and public tastings of wine. All in all a great celebration of Saperavi and Georgian culture.

Phil Plummer, Head winemaker at all three Martin Family Wineries in the Finger Lakes.

I attended the festival, but mostly on the technical/trade end of the schedule. I can’t speak to marketing impact and the like, but the viticultural and enological information shared in the trade sessions was really compelling. Saperavi is a very exciting grape variety for us in the Finger Lakes, but I think winemakers should be excited about this one on a global level, too. Saperavi exists at the intersection of past, present, and future winemaking. As one of the earliest-cultivated grape varieties, working with Saperavi gives winemakers an opportunity to connect to the past–walking in the footsteps of the countless generations of winemakers who came before us. At present, Saperavi’s unique versatility allows winemakers to experiment, making wines in a widening array of styles. Looking forward, Saperavi’s resilience and versatility position it as a grape variety to embrace in the wake of a changing climate. As a blending component or varietal, Saperavi rarely disappoints. From a culinary standpoint, its rich phenolic profile, bright acid, and unmistakable aromatics present exciting opportunities for wine and food pairing, particularly with the Georgian cuisine available at the festival.

Erika Frye, co-founder of Saperica Inc., CS, CWE & Diploma WSET

When I started discovering Saperavi in the Finger Lakes several years ago, I could feel that there was something special about this grape variety in this region.  There is a buzz that surrounds Saperavi which started off whisper-like but has now grown into a conversation that cannot be ignored.  The 1st annual Saperavi Festival came at just the right time to give this grape variety a clear voice to tell the story of its past, present, and future.  It comes at a time when Saperavi plantings are increasing in the Finger Lakes region.  We hope that these new producers will be able to use the Saperica organization and the Saperavi Festival as resources to find information about the Saperavi grape variety, learn about its Georgian heritage and connect with other Saperavi producers.

The most exciting thing about the festival for me was the ability to build connections.  We had a great partnership between the three festival hosts – Saperica, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Chama Mama.  An impressive group of wine producers and wine importers were present from both the USA and Georgia.  Two experts in their fields shared their knowledge of Saperavi winemaking and Georgian cuisine.  Most importantly, there were about 250 festival attendees who were connecting with the wines, the food, the environment, and the people.  When I was able to stop for a moment and survey the amazing crowd of people who had come together to celebrate Saperavi, that is what made me feel truly proud – proud of the community that we are starting to build and what we will all be able to accomplish together in the future.

John McGregor, Vice President of McGregor Vineyard

The Saperavi Festival was a great introduction to Saperavi for many.  Its Georgian roots were presented wonderfully!  McGregor Vineyard was the sole producer of Saperavi in the United States for decades. Now the Finger Lakes is home to numerous Saperavi producers, and more are sure to come in the near future. This festival really felt like a validation of my late father, Bob McGregor’s steadfast belief that Saperavi was perfectly suited to grow in the Finger Lakes and could make some of the region’s finest and most respected wines.

Bryanna Cramer, Assistant Winemaker Standing Stone Vineyards

I felt like the event was a huge success for the region, seeing as it was the first annual and it sold out and had additional tickets added on. It felt like the overall vibe was excitement about the variety as well as a general curiosity about its potential here in the FLX. It was really beneficial to have vendors pouring various Saperavi from Georgia to have as a reference, as well as Georgians giving their genuine feedback on the wines being made here in the Finger Lakes. I think they were pleasantly surprised by the quality and authenticity that can be achieved. From the customer perspective, I think the majority are still discovering the variety, its characteristics, and its history but I see that as an opportunity to continue educating not only at events like this but also on-site at Standing Stone and the other wineries working with Saperavi. 

This event and those all involved proved that Saperavi has progressed from being viewed as a grape variety with the potential to make outstanding varietal wine here in North America to being acknowledged as a proven producer of high-quality wine in various styles. Saperavi will continue to evolve as new winemakers add their interpretations of how it can be made and the newly planted Saperavi vineyards come into production expressing the terroir of their increasingly diverse geographic locations.

Congratulations to everyone involved in Saperica’s Saperavi Festival in the Finger Lakes on its successful endeavor to gather Saperavi lovers and promote this ancient grape. A special thank you to Lasha, Erika, Fred, Phil, John, Bryanna, and Jim for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights about Saperavi.

Photos Courtesy: Saperica Inc.

More Wine For Less $$$

When I’m asked what is a good wine to buy I always ask what wine they like to drink? When they tell me their favorite wine I say “Then that’s a good wine for you.” This sounds very non-committal but I tell them this because a wine is only a good wine if you enjoy drinking it not because someone tells you it is a good wine but you don’t like it. Not enjoying a wine deemed a shining example of winemaking is not a judgment of your wine quality preferences but a measure of personal taste. The idea that a “processed” wine, you may remember as an “industrial” wine, can actually be enjoyed by millions of wine drinkers has sparked spirited discussions among wine lovers.

These widely distributed wines have to be mass-produced to accommodate the logistics of supplying every retail outlet that offers them for sale. Benefitting from the economy of scale wine conglomerates are able to make these wines readily available at affordable prices and in a mindboggling array of choices. This type of wine is produced in facilities that resemble an oil refinery more often than the small family-run wineries we are accustomed to visiting.

Marketing of wine is a complex procedure that relays on what a consumer is willing to pay for a product as opposed to its quality and production cost, take note that we are back to the perception of what is a good wine and who determines it. Most of the brands I am referring to fall into the $8-$25 range where the completion for sales is fierce. When you look at the bottles in this price range at the store it is easy to be fooled into thinking each is from an individually owned winery but the truth is that they are divisions of a handful of large corporations. E & J Gallo Winery has over 100 unique brands, you will be surprised to see just how many of their brands you recognize but didn’t associate with it. It is virtually impossible for a small winery to compete in this area of the wine market.

The corporations make the decisions on which of their brands are marketed to each consumer demographic and it is carefully produced to satisfy as many of the qualities that group of wine drinkers is looking for in their wine purchase. Depending on how and to whom the wine will be sold ultimately determines its ad campaign and if it gets put in a bottle, jug, box, can, or keg, well you get the picture. Due to certain unknown factors in these decisions, it is possible to find some very drinkable wines at bargain prices. The reason may be the vintages are better than expected and there are limited distribution channels to handle the excess wine. Just like those late-night TV commercials for warehouse furniture stores that tout the “Everything must go” pitch, winemakers often end up with more wine than they can sell. That is why you often find name-brand wines on the shelves of deep-discount retailers.

Just as the economy of scale can have a huge influence on the way wine is produced the clout of buying power has an enormous effect on how wine is sold. I live in Pennsylvania where the government controls all alcohol sales. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (P.L.C.B.) maintains a network of retail stores statewide and offers online sales through its website. The P.L.C.B. is the largest purchaser of wine in the United States and this gives them immense leverage when negotiating deals. The P.L.C.B. uses its Chairman’s Selection program to offer customers an ever-changing lineup of interesting wines at a discounted price. Wine is like any other product, in that getting it on sale is no bargain unless the quality is there. Doing your homework before you go wine shopping can be very helpful when you are cruising the aisles looking for a “GOOD” wine. Happy Hunting!

Photos Courtesy: Vivino.com

Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine 2019

When Jim Baker started his winery he didn’t set out to just make good wine but to make great wine in a traditional French style not only for New York but for anywhere.He has been doing just that since the beginning at his Chateau Niagara Winery with his award-winning wines featuring his signature Cabernet Franc. Sometimes you have to explore an avenue of innovation when it presents itself in the form of an interesting twist on a classic Italian wine making style. Jim developed an entirely new method of wine making that he uses to produce his Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine. Riesling Rosine is a totally new take on Riesling that has to be tasted to be understood. Jim uses a modified appassimento method that he invented to dry his Riesling grapes to the point of them becoming raisins, hence the name Rosine. He chose the name with a tip of the hat because it sounded Italian but is the German word for raisin. 

Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine 2019 is an off-dry Riesling with bright acidity and balanced sugar that produces a creamy mouthfeel that I found to be surprising for a Riesling. The flavors start with citrus but shift to tropical fruit as a result of botrytris doing its thing during the drying process. You can purchase Chateau Niagara Riesling Rosine and other Chateau Niagara wines online at http://www.chateauniagarawinery.com

Time After Time

You might be familiar with the name Meiomi from its immensely popular Pinot Noir, That Pinot has the dubious honor of being deemed “drinkable” in the controversial 2/4/2019 New York Times article by Eric Asimov titled “Supermarket wines are poured, and worlds collide.”https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/dining/drinks/wine-school-grocery-store-wines.amp.html In his article Mr. Asimov named three “processed” wines, as he called them, to show the divide between how the consumption of wine is viewed between two distinctly different groups of consumers. He used Apothic Red Blend, Meiomi Pinot Noir, and The Prisoner as examples of wine manufactured and marketed to the masses as an industrial product while another smaller group of wine consumers are targeted by the producers of wine that is made in small batches and is an artisanal agricultural product. He also mentions a third even smaller group of wine drinkers who can appreciate and move between both groups. I am a member of that group. While I can enjoy wine from both of Eric Asimov’s groups, I must be careful when recommending a bottle that is in limited distribution making sure it can be found in traditional distribution channels. 

Meiomi Chardonnay 2019 is widely distributed and is very affordable with a price tag under $20. This California Chardonnay is made to check as many of the boxes that Chardonnay drinkers are looking for as possible. It is a blend of grapes from Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County, and Monterey County. Meiomi Chardonnay 2019 was fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks and underwent 100% malolactic fermentation before being aged with French oak. This is not a bone-dry California Chardonnay but has a little sweetness to it, along with flavors of apple, pear, and vanilla followed by a buttery finish.

Meiomi Chardonnay is a crowd-pleaser because it is made to appeal to the broadest range of tastes while maintaining consistency from year to year. If you are planning a gathering where the majority of your guests are casual wine drinkers, I think serving a popular mass produced wine is a wise choice. It is better to be throwing out empty wine bottles than to be pouring half-full glasses of wine down the drain. 

Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2019

Spanish wines offer some of the best values that you can find in the market today. Good quality and well priced Spanish wine can be found in both red and white if you do some research and are open to try something new. Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2019 is a perfect example of a very drinkable Spanish wine that is both widely distributed and very inexpensive. This red is certainly worth trying when you consider that it can be purchased for around $10 a bottle.

Campo Viejo Tempranillo 2019 is made in Rioja, Spain. Tempranillo is the most widely planted red grape variety in Spain but is not produced as a varietal often. Tempranillo is commonly used as a blending grape due to its neutral profile and ability to enhance the wines it is blended with. This wine is a balanced lighter red wine with no single dominating characteristic but that is not to say it doesn’t have enough structure, acidity, and flavor to be enjoyable. This Tempranillo pairs with tapas, grilled chicken, charcuterie, and of course Pizza.

There is no need for overkill when picking a wine for a meal or event. I try to match the type of wine with the type of event, meal, or group of friends and family I will be sharing it with.

Food Truck Wine Pairings

 

After reading an article recently about pairing wine with food truck fare I suddenly realized the perfect synergy that food trucks have with the wineries they visit. The eclectic menu items provided by the ever-changing food truck line up at wineries offer a unique opportunity to experiment with wine and food pairings that is simply impossible to achieve in a brick and mortar restaurant.

The following suggestions are only a starting point so I urge you to be creative when composing your pairings. The mind-boggling variety of food choices offered by these vendors provide winery goers an exciting range of dishes and cuisine to explore.

Every item will be accompanied by a Pennsylvania-made wine and one that is widely available and value-priced because remember you are being served your food through a window of a food truck.

BBQ & Grilled Meats: Without question these are the menu items on which the food truck industry was built. When you order from these trucks you need a wine with some backbone to stand up to the flavors of grilled meat, smoke, and sauce. These two bottles fit the bill nicely.

Fero Vineyards & Winery Estate Lemberger http://ferovineyards.com or Zuccardi Q Malbec

Pierogies: This Polish specialty is a comfort food favorite in Western Pennsylvania. Pierogies are most commonly filled with either potato, sauerkraut, or cheese but they can be filled with any number of unusual stuffings. A sweet option to the traditional savory ones is Prune Lekvar. A testament to how beloved pierogies are in the fabric of the community is that the Pittsburgh Pirates hold a pierogie race at every home game. I suggest pairing them with South Shore Wine Company Grűner Veltliner http://enjoymazza.com or Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewűrztraminer

Pizza: You can get anything from an authentic Neapolitan pie to the latest trendy gourmet creations seen on Instagram from a food truck these days. High temperature brick ovens have become the norm in food trucks so it calls for an equally impressive wine to complete your pizza adventure. Try Ripepi Winery & Vineyard Zinfandel http://ripepiwine.com or Menage-A-Trios Pinot Noir

Tacos: A mainstay of the food truck culture on the West Coast, taco trucks have developed a loyal following in Pennsylvania. When it comes to variety and originality you can always find something good at taco truck. I recommend selecting a Rosé or Blush. Consider these wines when doing your pairings. Greendance Isabella http://greendancewinery.com or Château ď Esclan Whispering Angel Rosé

Mac & Cheese: These trucks have filled a niche that has blossomed into one that provides choices not found in the mainstream trucks. When you have the chance please try some of what they are serving up because I think you will be happy you did. My wine picks here would be Narcisi Riesling http://narcisiwinery.com and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

Chicken: Chicken is a blank canvas for the chefs in a food truck. They paint masterpieces using broad strokes of flavor and style. To keep up with their always evolving flavor palates you must pair them with wines that can handle a broad spectrum of spices and preparation methods. These wines are well-suited for that challenge. Winslow Winery Vidal Blanc http://winslowwinery.com and Bogle Vineyards Merlot

Seafood: Seafood themed food trucks offer more than just fish sandwiches. They run the gambit from lobster rolls to sushi. While not as numerous as other cuisine focused trucks, when you find one it will likely be a memorable alternative to standard food truck grub. These two wines are sure to please. Bella Terra Chardonnay http://bellaterravineyards.com and Cantina Zaccagnini Pinot Grigio

My last word to you about pairing wine with any food, not just food truck food, is to trust your instincts because you just can’t make a mistake. So get out there and get the most out of what the wine world has to offer.

Souther Williams Vineyard

In the rolling hills of western North Carolina nestled within the Crest of the Blue Ridge lies the beautiful vineyards and boutique winery of Souther Williams Vineyard. Souther Williams Vineyard sits on the remains of a 10,000-acre farm that has been in owner Ken Parker’s family for over 200 years. The vineyard and winery continue the family’s commitment to the land and their dedication to being responsible stewards as is stated in their motto ”Gargien de la terre” which means “Caretakers of the Earth”.

Souther Williams Vineyard Photo Courtesy: Souther Williams Vineyard

Ken currently has 8 acres in vines and plans for an additional 5 acres. The vineyards are planted at approximately 2500 feet above sea level in mountain loam soil with a rocky substrate that provides good drainage and mineral content allowing the vines to sink their roots deep into the ground. I originally heard of Souther Williams because of their Saperavi planting, which is the first in North Carolina, but after learning more about their vineyard I became very interested in their choice of grape varieties. They grow wine grapes that originated in Austria, Eastern Europe, Germany, and Russia because these grapes have proven to be reliable and produce quality fruit even when grown at higher altitudes in cool climates with shorter growing seasons. Ken planted one acre each of Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Cynthiana, Blaufrankisch, Regent, Saperavi, and Cabernet Franc with an acre of Rkatsiteli to be added in 2022.

Ken Parker and his wife Angela have a wine story that is a familiar one when it comes to people who succumb to the

Sun shining on rows of Cynthiana vines Photo Courtesy: Souther Williams Vineyard

irresistible pull of time and place by following their hearts home to live the “Winemaker’s Life”. Ken and Angela were professionals in banking and technology when they found their passion for wine. They left those careers to pursue new careers in the retail side of the wine industry but soon realized the only way they could truly fulfill their dreams was to return home to North Carolina and start their own vineyard and winery on the family farm. Souther Williams Vineyard will open its tasting room to the public in June 2021. Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Rkatsiteli, and two Meritage blends will be available for purchase in the winery’s initial offering of wine

Aerial view of Gruner Veltliner and Vidal Blanc vineyard Photo Courtesy: Souther Williams Vineyard

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Till We Meet Again

Isabella Grapes Photo Courtesy: Double-A Vineyards

In my last post, I explored the idea that you didn’t need to try wine from far away places to experience something new. There are plenty of grape varieties that were commonly found on kitchen tables and being made into everyday wines have fallen out of favor for a myriad of reasons can provide an interesting distraction from the predictable narrative of today’s offerings.

Isabella is a Vitis labrusca grape that was once prized for it’s ability to produce fruit that was marketable as table grapes, juice, and grapes for winemaking. Isabella is a large round grape with dark purple skin and a green-yellow flesh that is easily separated from its skin.

In many European countries, Isabella is still banned from being grown and it is illegal to make wine from its grapes. The importation of Isabella vines from North America was widely blamed for the phylloxera plague that ravaged vineyards across Europe in the mid-1800s. Despite it being outlawed in many European countries Isabella can still be found in vineyards and being made into various styles of wine, especially in Italy where the sweet dessert wine Fragolino is very popular. Isabella’s reputation as a desperado has necessitated it being known by more than fifty aliases. Those names range from Alexander and Fragola to Moschostaphylo and Kerkyraios but no matter what name you have known Isabella by it always displays that trademark “foxy” flavor that Vitis labrusca grapes are known for.

The Sun Also Rises

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017

When you think of wine grapes grown in Rioja, Spain you naturally think of Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the predominant grape by far in acreage planted in Rioja, Garnacha plays a crucial supporting role in most of the wonderful Tempranillo-Garnacha Rioja blends coming out of that wine region. This enjoyable red grape is called Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone presented a candid view of Rioja on his television show “Field Trip with Curtis Stone” which airs on the PBS Create TV channel. Stone visits artisanal producers of food and wine around the world to get inspiration for new dishes at his Beverly Hills restaurant “Maude”. During his visit to Rioja, he was invited to supper at the home of a winemaker where he is treated to wine from the host’s 100-year-old Garnacha vineyard. Check your local listings for this insightful glimpse into some of the most storied food and wine regions on Earth.

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017 received a 90 pts rating from James Suckling and has also been well reviewed by many other notable wine critics. This is a great introductory Rioja with subtle oak notes, good acidity, and structure at a value price. On the palate, it is smooth and soft with dynamic fruit flavors. Don’t overlook this varietal just because of all the luscious Tempranillo- Garnacha blends that Rioja offers. Please be open to exploring wine from Rioja because you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will find in your glass. 

Here’s a fun fact if you are curious about the exact location where this wine is made checkout the longitude and latitude coordinates on the top of the label.

Longitude & Latitude Coordinates

Link to Field Trip with Curtis Stone below

 

http://www.fieldtripwithcurtisstone.com 

 

Smoke & Mirrors

Robert Mondavi “invented” Fumé Blanc because he wanted to

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

distinguish the high-quality Sauvignon Blanc he was making in the French-style from the other California Sauvignon Blanc that was widely viewed as ordinary “run of the mill” sweet wines. Mondavi realized that changing the name wouldn’t be enough to change people’s idea of California Sauvignon Blanc so he decided to age it in oak barrels. His bold move to rename his dry-fermented barrel-aged wine Fumé Blanc quickly paid off as demand for this “new” wine grew in California and across the United States. Mondavi’s decision not to trademark the name was a stroke of brilliance on his part because more people could use the name and by doing so increase its name recognition and acceptance worldwide. The name Fumé Blanc is commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States since the late1960’s. Robert Mondavi never intended to imply that Fumé Blanc was a specific style or method of making wine but only a name for his wine. There is nothing that dictates Fumé Blanc must be oak-aged. You can find Fumé Blanc that is not aged in oak and that is perfectly acceptable because under current U.S. law the terms “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Fumé Blanc” are synonymous. 

If you are curious I suggest you try Fumé Blanc from the winery

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

that started it all, the Robert Mondavi Winery. 2017 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley from Robert Mondavi Winery has aromas of peach, citrus and of course, smoke followed by crisp acidity and flavors of pear, citrus, and vanilla/buttery oak. 

The wine world is full of interesting stories like this and others where you may find yourself asking is it “Lemberger” or “Blaufränkisch”? Don’t even get me started with the marketing genius behind the “Syrah” or “Shiraz” campaign.LOL My advice is to ignore the marketing hype and drink what you like no matter what is printed on the label.