Sonoma law tightens label descriptions

  • Wednesday 11 October 2006

A new law signed by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger restricts the use of the word ‘Sonoma’ to wines made with at least 75% Sonoma grapes.

Like comparable Napa legislation, the law – SB 1380 – was designed to close loopholes in federal brand name legislation from 1986. That federal law banned labels bearing brand names which implied the wine was made from grapes grown in the area suggested by the brand, unless at least 75% of the grapes used to make the wine were grown in that area.

However, a ‘grandfather clause’ exempted an otherwise misleading geographic brand name – if the brand name was in use before 1986.

Previous to the new law, brands established before July 1986 were not required to use 75% or more Sonoma County grapes in producing the wine. The county has more than 26,000ha of wine grapes and more than 250 wineries.

‘It is important that consumers are not confused when buying wines with Sonoma on the label,’ said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, which sponsored the legislation.

Frey gave the example of Sonoma Creek Winery, which was recently purchased . ‘It was being made with grapes from other California regions,’ he said.

Though considered a victory by many winemakers and grape growers in Sonoma some are not pleased.

The Wine Institute, California wine industry’s main lobbying organization, opposed SB1380. It is not ‘consistent’ with the law for Napa, passed in 2000, which applies ‘equally’ to all viticultural areas within Napa County, spokeswoman Gladys Horiuchi told decanter.com.

‘It sounds good on the surface,’ she said, but some pre-1986 brand names without the word ‘Sonoma’ on the label, but legally defined as being within Sonoma are not covered by the new law. She named Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and the Russian River Valley as examples.

'We are not saying that people are out of compliance, or are even going to be out of compliance,' she said. 'It's just that the law could have been done in a more consistent manner.'

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