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Vintner Group Seeks to Protect Napa Valley's Name

Jeff Morgan
Posted: May 25, 1999

In California, a group of leading Napa Valley vintners intends to propose state legislation requiring wine brands with names that refer to Napa Valley geography, such as Napa Ridge and Rutherford Vintners, to list the percentage of Napa Valley grapes used in their blends.

The Napa Valley Vintners Association, which represents more than 150 wineries, is concerned that Napa Valley's reputation is being diminished by wines that don't originate in the appellation, and the group wants to make it clearer to consumers what exactly they are drinking. "We need a more authentic way to identify where the grapes are coming from," said Tom Shelton, president of the association and of Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

In theory, the current appellation system used on labels should indicate where a wine originated. Any wine carrying a Napa Valley designation -- or that of any of its subappellations -- must be made with at least 85 percent Napa Valley grapes. But the NVVA fears that consumers could be confused by wines, such as Napa Ridge, that are made mostly with grapes grown outside of Napa Valley, despite the origin implied by the brand name.

The labeling proposal has not yet been ratified by NVVA members, but Shelton said he expected it would go to the state legislature within several months, even though label laws are generally handled at the federal level. "We don't think we can be as successful on the federal level," he explained. "It's more complicated. If it were local, we could pass it and set an example for people to follow." Shelton hopes that state Sen. Wesley Chesbro, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on California's Wine Industry, will support the proposal.

Meanwhile, the NVVA is creating a Napa Valley Seal of Authenticity, which will be displayed on wines made entirely from Napa Valley grapes.

The NVVA's grape-listing proposal was prompted mainly by Central Valley vintner Fred Franzia's latest winery project in the city of Napa. Plans call for bottling as much as 18 million cases of bulk wine originating in the Central Valley, where Franzia owns about 35,000 acres of grapes. Because he owns the Domaine Napa, Napa Creek and Rutherford Vintners brands, Franzia could legally use those names and the words "Cellared and Bottled in Napa, Calif." on the labels of non-Napa Valley wines.

"Freddie [Franzia] is definitely someone we are concerned with," said Shelton. "He doesn't have the best interests of Napa at the core of his business plan."

Related stories:

  • April 19, 1999:
    Unfiltered, Unfined: Napa's Name Down the Drain?

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