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Sonoma producers protest new labelling law

Small producers in Sonoma County are angered by new legislation requiring them to label their wines Sonoma County even if they are part of specific sub-appellations.

Geographically diverse… Sonoma

Under the new law, which comes into force on 1 January 2014, a Russian River Valley producer will to also have indicate the broader and geographically diverse ‘Sonoma County’, which spans 400,000ha and includes 15 sub-AVAs on the front label.

‘The danger of this is very real,’ said Scott Rich of Talisman Wines, who makes single-vineyard-designate Pinot Noir throughout Sonoma County.

‘Mandatory conjunctive labeling has the potential to elevate the image of a few large producers of mid-value, mass-produced wines at the expense of many smaller producers of high-value, hand-crafted wines.’

Sonoma County Vintners, the group responsible for pushing the legislation through, argues that conjunctive labeling will ‘build brand equity’ and ‘ensure that consumers understand where they are.’ Napa Valley enacted similar legislation in 1990.

‘The fact that there are those few of us making excellent appellation-specific wine in Sonoma County is exactly why the county wants to force us into the fold,’ says Jake Hawkes, a multi-generational grower and winemaker in Alexander Valley.

‘Our wines are pretty good and pretty expensive and I’d rather not have them associated with the ocean of dross out there.’

Then there is the question of redundancy. Ken Freeman of Freeman Vineyard & Winery and board president of West Sonoma Coast Vintners said, ‘We already have Sonoma Coast on the label so adding Sonoma County seems a little redundant.’

Rich agreed, explaining that one of his wines will have the word ‘Sonoma’ three times on the label: Sonoma Valley sub-AVA, the County and the city.

A recent study reported on Decanter.com found this can cause confusion for consumers.

The law came into force in January 2011, with a three-year voluntary ‘phase-in period’ during which wineries could choose whether or not to participate. Any wineries not in compliance after 1 January 2014 could lose their license.

Written by Courtney Humiston in Sonoma

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