Eminent Domain Used To Usurp Wine Label Real Estate
I was disappointed, though not surprised, to see that today a conjunctive labeling law dictating that "Sonoma County" be placed on every label on wines produced from grapes grown in Sonoma County was unanimously passed by the California Legislature . Pushed as an effort to promote "Sonoma County" wines and a consumer education effort, the new law instead forces vintners to needlessly sully their package and undermines their own marketing efforts. Yet, the law does nothing to educate consumers.
Passed unanimously out of the California Assembly and Senate, AB 1798 now awaits the Governor's signature, which it will surely obtain. According to Noreen Evans, an Assembly sponsor of the bill, this new conjunctive labeling law "requires that any wine labeled with an American Viticultural Area (AVA)
located entirely within Sonoma County – – like Russian River Valley or
Dry Creek Valley – must also include the word "Sonoma County" on the
label, starting in 2014. There are 13 AVAs in Sonoma County."
The problem, of course, is that by placing the words "Sonoma County" on a bottle of wine that is made with grapes grown in "Russian River Valley", "Dry Creek Valley", "Sonoma Valley" or any other AVA in SonomaSonoma County" have any single distinguishing feature derived from the fact that they were grown inside the borders of Sonoma County. County, consumers learn absolutely nothing about the wine in the bottle. There no evidence that grapes grown in "
Assemblywoman Evans concludes, "By improving consumer education on each bottle, conjunctive labeling
will unleash the full potential of our delicious wines to represent
Sonoma around the world."
She's correct. Beginning in 2014, "Sonoma County" will receive a tremendous boost in recognition due to the conjunctive labeling law that forces vintners to add more wording to their labels—whether they think the words "Sonoma County" help or hurt their marketing efforts.
Frankly, if I was making high end wine from the "Sonoma Valley", "Sonoma Mountain" or "Sonoma Coast" AVAs that depended in part on the quality recognition that comes wtih these AVAs, I'd be pissed that I'm forced now to put a place-name on my label that told my buyers nothing of real value about the wine behind my label and, in some cases, demonstrably lowered its perceived quality.
Honore Comfort, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Vintners Association and an outstanding representative for Sonoma County wines noted this: ". "This moment …marks the
beginning of a stronger Sonoma County brand for generations to come."
Proponents of the new Sonoma County Conjunctive labeling law like to point to a similar law that demands "Napa Valley" be placed on all wines that are made from grapes grown in that appellation, rather than simply using a sub appellation. They point to the prestige that the "Napa Valley" designation carries. But this prestige has nothing to due with the law that demands "Napa Valley", in addition to simply "Rutherford", be placed on these wines. It has to do entirely with the promotional effort that has gone into making "Napa Valley" a place associated with great wines.
Such an association will not be made with "Sonoma County" wines…ever. The vintners in Sonoma County simply can't make a case for "Sonoma County" having any meaning or for a region as vast as "Sonoma County" delivering any degree of quality to the grapes.
Why is it important for someone making "Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir" or "Sonoma Valley Zinfandel" to help promote "Sonoma County", a designation that has no ability to define the quality or character of the wines in my Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir or my Sonoma Valley Zinfandel?
This is an example of a County usurping the private label real estate, and it's very valuable real estate, for the sake of promoting something that is of little use to private commercial interests. Ask yourself…If putting the words "Sonoma County" on one's wines was such a great thing, why don't more vintners who make "Dry Creek Valley", "Russian River Valley", "Alexander Valley" or "Sonoma Valley" wines already put these words on their label? They legally could…if they wanted to.
The new Sonoma County conjunctive labeling law is the equivalent of the State of California and the County of Sonoma claiming imminent domain over the labels of hundreds of vintners.