Although Beringer is best known as one of Napa Valley's top varietal producers, the Founders' Estate brand is made with few or no grapes from Napa Valley. Much of the wine comes from grapes grown in the coastal regions of California, while a portion of it was purchased in bulk from other producers and blended into the finished product. All the wines therefore carry the broad California appellation.
A preview sample of Beringer Founders' Estate Merlot California 1997 (85, $9) was quite good. But some other Napa Valley producers -- sensitive about using their famed appellation's reputation to promote wines not made from Napa grapes -- may not find the winery's choice of brand name palatable. According to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulations, designated estate-bottled wines must be made entirely from grapes grown in the appellation in which a winery is located.
Nonetheless, "The label is fully BATF-approved," said Beringer vice president of winery communications Tor Kenward, who explained that as a trademarked brand the word "estate" is appropriate and legal.
Beringer has taken a similar approach with its Napa Ridge label, which uses very few Napa Valley grapes despite the implied Napa Valley origin. But the Beringer Founders' Estate brand doesn't obviously refer to Napa; consumers would need to know that Beringer Vineyards is located in Napa Valley in order to make the connection.
To learn more about the debate over the Napa Valley name: