Continuing their battle to protect their appellation's strong reputation, the board members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which represents 162 wineries, have approved a proposal to ban misleading geographic brand names. The measure would eliminate brands that are labeled with the names of winegrowing regions but don't use grapes from those areas (for example, if a hypothetical wine called Oakville Cellars was made primarily from grapes grown in the Central Valley).
Many producers fear that such brands mislead the consumer and dilute the cachet of high-profile regions such as Sonoma County and Napa Valley. "People outside the Napa Valley can currently take advantage of loopholes in the laws," said Jack Stuart, vice president of the NVVA and general manager of Silverado Vineyards in Napa. "Too many people have worked too long and hard to establish the reputation of Napa for it to be allowable to misuse the name."
The association's proposal would allow an offending winery 10 years to either change its geographic brand name or to use grapes grown within the county from which the name originates. During the phaseout period, "misdescriptive labels" would be required to include a disclosure statement stating that the brand name "does not indicate the origin of grapes in this wine."
While the NVVA has no enforcement powers, its officers hope that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will support the proposal with new regulations. "We need to ensure for the future that there's authenticity in the AVAs [American Viticultural Areas]," said Tom Shelton, president of the NVVA and CEO of Joseph Phelps Vineyards in St. Helena.
The NVVA acknowledges that it could take years for the BATF to approve these measures. In the meantime, the group plans to create a seal of authenticity that could only be used on wines made entirely from Napa Valley grapes.
Stuart hopes these proposals open the eyes of California wine drinkers. He said, "We want to sound the alarm amongst consumers, so that when they shop for a fine bottle and see 'Napa' on the label they don't ask, 'Is that really Napa wine?' If they can't trust the bad guys, they might not trust us."
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