Celebrating Nothing Specific in Sonoma County
The Sunday Santa Rosa Press Democrat had an interesting ad in it placed by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. In it they identify Sonoma County restaurants where 75% of the wines on their lists. are from Sonoma County and restaurants where 50% of the wines on their lists are from Sonoma County. These restaurants are congratulated for supporting Sonoma County, its growers, etc.
This is a nice way to both encourage more Sonoma County-centric wine lists and to let diners know what restaurants they can go to in order to find a nice selection of Sonoma County wines.
But it’s the third category in the ad that interests me: "Sonoma County Star Wineries". These are wineries that produce bottlings with "Sonoma County listed on the label".
Are these wineries being congratulated for following labeling laws? Or are they being congratulated for listing an appellation that tells the consumer very little about the source of the grapes that made the wine?
"Sonoma County" is a huge region that includes "Sonoma Coast", "Carneros", "Russian River Valley", "Sonoma Valley", "Alexander Valley", "Knights Valley", "Dry Creek Valley" and other appellations and sub-appellations. Wines that carry the "Sonoma County" appellation need only have used grapes that came from any combination of these appellations. Suffice to say, Zinfandel grapes grown in Glen Ellen in "Sonoma Valley" struggle under quite different climatic circumstances than Zinfandel grown in the Russian River Valley. And we aren’t even talking about soil factors.
By encouraging growers, wineries and consumers to celebrate the "Sonoma County" appellation we are encouraging them to celebrate nothing specific. It’s the celebration of a brand, not a place that can be said to have any specific regional character.
However, I don’t want to suggest that the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission is trying to put anything over on anyone. They are very upfront about their mission and goals:
"Sonoma County Winegrape Commission will allow Sonoma County to promote
its grapes and wines at a level consistent with other winegrowing
regions. NOW is the opportunity for all county growers to support this
marketing and production research efforts."
"Sonoma County" has a lot of competitors in "wine region branding" department. It in fact must compete with other more meaningful regions and appellations INSIDE Sonoma County, not to mention efforts on behalf of "Lake County", "Monterey County" and numerous other terroirless areas.
For my money, the better educational and promotional effort is put into promoting much more specific appellations that produce wines consumers can have real expectations about.