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Napa wineries protest geographic name laws

Napa vintners are up in arms over proposals to allow wine labels to carry geographic names regardless of whether grapes from the region are in the bottle.

The proposed moves by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would allow Calistoga Cellars to continue under that name even after Calistoga – the region – is named an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). The grapes in Calistoga Cellars wine do not come from Calistoga.

The proposals include a ‘rolling grandfather clause’ that will allow such a geographic wine label if a new AVA is recognized after a label has been in use for five years. Calistoga Cellars was formed in 1999. The proposed rules would apply to all US wine regions.

‘The effects of these proposals are far-reaching and will have substantial and severe consequences to all US wine regions and wine brands, but more importantly, to the truth-in-labeling rights of consumers,’ the Napa Valley Vintners, a trade association with more than 300 winery members, said in a statement.

‘The TTB is spending too much time worrying about the rights of a producer and has forgotten about the consumer,’ Dennis Groth, president of Groth Vineyards and Winery in Oakville said. ‘Part of its mandate is to protect the consumer and we think they’re totally ignoring that.’

Groth noted that the NVV conducted consumer research on geographic names on wine labels and found a ‘very significant number of consumers’ believe the wine comes from the region named on the bottle.

‘If anything, the TTB should be making the rules tighter not rolling back,’ says Groth, a member of the NVV’s subcommittee on the issue. ‘International law recognizes that you should not have geographically mis-descriptive labels. This would put them in conflict with international law.’

Written by Janice Fuhrman in San Francisco

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