Napa Valley Winemakers Ask Feds for Stricter Label Standards

Courtesy of Clos Du Val

By Gillie Houston Posted July 12, 2016

California producers, including those from the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, have called for stricter federal standards.

If there's one thing winemakers take seriously, it's their terroir—especially in America's most famous wine-producing region. Recently, producers from the Napa Valley and Sonoma County have called for stricter federal labeling standards on bottles in order to prevent faux West Coast wines from hitting the market.

According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, many local winemakers, including the Napa Valley Vintners trade group, would like legislation protecting the right to label a bottle as hailing from California. "We are passionate advocates for the integrity of the Napa name," says Rex Stults, who heads government relations for the group. Stults and his cohorts call for tighter label restrictions for geographic regions, varietals, and vintage dates.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D) and other local lawmakers back their request for rules that would prevent mislabeling. Currently, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau does regulate the system of American Viticultural Areas, and requires that 85 percent of grapes in a bottle of wine must come from a particular destination in order to put that location on a label. However, there's a troubling loophole: the bureau can only regulate wines sold within the boundaries of each state.

According to the advocates for stricter label laws, many vinos from Eastern wineries are labeled as coming from the "Los Carneros" region and other areas in Sonoma and Napa, despite only sourcing a small percentage of their grapes from the west. Sonoma County Vintners association director Jean Arnold Sessions says the current laws surrounding the AVA make it very easy for wine producers to insert California origins.

As for tracking down every wine and ensuring it's "Napa Valley" label is legit, Stults knows that will be a monumental task, noting, "we don't know how big of a problem it is." But tighter federal laws would be a big step towards fighting back against shady wine practices.

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