How Sonoma County Wineries Can Skirt the Law
Beginning yesterday, January 1, 2014, any wine released that will identify any American Viticultural Area (AVA) on the label located inside Sonoma County MUST also carry the words “Sonoma County” on the label.
I’ve noted in a number of blog posts why this is a very bad idea. This made no difference and the “Conjunctive Labeling Law” for Sonoma County is now in force. Vintners in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley or Bennett Valley, for example, who see no value in putting “Sonoma County” on their wines’ labels must do so. And those vintners that place “Sonoma Valley” or “Sonoma Coast” on their wines’ labels must live with the aesthetic indignity of also putting the words “Sonoma County” on their labels.
For these vintners, the question now becomes how to mitigate the impact of this new law on their labels and marketing by using legal means to skirt the intent of the law. I have some suggestions.
First, it’s important to note that the actual law that passed the California State legislature specifically says that any wine carrying the name of an appellation inside Sonoma County:
“shall bear the designation ‘Sonoma County’ on the label in a type size not smaller than two millimeters on containers of more than 187 milliliters”
Note that the law does not say on which label on the container the words “Sonoma County. Traditionally, wines have at least two labels on them: The Front (which tends to face forward on store shelves) and the back (which is usually unseen when on store shelves. It appears that vintners may bury the words “Sonoma County” on any part of the bottle. IMPORTANTLY, this seems to mean that the term “Sonoma County” need not appear anywhere near the name of the appellation the vintner actually wants to put on their label. This loophole will allow vintners who produce “Sonoma Coast” wines from having to confuse customers by placing “Sonoma County” directly next to the more accurate “Sonoma Coast” wording. The same can be said for those vintners who bottle “Sonoma Valley” or “Sonoma Mountain” wines.
Regarding prominence and legibility of the term “Sonoma County”, the law also seems to suggest that the words merely be two millimeters high. Professional graphic designers, given this criteria, should be expert in finding ways to absolutely bury this useless term somewhere on a back labels of a wine so that the likelihood of a consumer buying a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel or a Chalk Hill Chardonnay being confused by it is significantly lessened.
Prior to the Sonoma County Conjunctive Labeling Law coming into legal force, a vintner could, if they chose and if they believed it beneficial, place the term “Sonoma Valley” prominently on their label. Few who could actually claim a more specific Sonoma County-based appellation did this, for obvious reasons. Now that option is gone.
For Sonoma County-based vintners who actually care about their marketing and their marketing and brand, who believe that promoting more specific and smaller and meaningful appellations is more important and more beneficial or who simply oppose subsidizing the marketing of the primarily larger wineries that use Sonoma County on their labels, today the work begins on skirting this new law.