That Stink is Coming From Napa Valley
Let me say right off the bat, I think the Napa Valley Vintners are a remarkable trade association that has done a better job than any other such association in representing the wineries that make up their organization. I’ve done work for the Napa Valley Vintners too. And I know the folks over there as well as numerous members.
That said, the NVV’s latest attempt to demonize Calistoga Cellars STINKS to high heaven!
A couple hours ago I received a press release from NVV that contained a position statement the Vintners took late last year in the controversy surrounding place name and brand names. In that document the Napa Valley Vintners accused Calistoga Cellars of marketing and selling wines with "purposefully misleading labels, leading consumers to believe their wines are from grapes grown in certain appellations or winemaking regions, when they are not."
I’m the last person who would criticize an advocate for using strong rhetoric. I like strong rhetoric. But strong rhetoric does require one small element to work: IT MUST BE TRUE. The Napa Valley Vintners rhetoric in their position statement simply isn’t true. And you have to wonder, what kind of case do they have to make when they choose not to rely on the truth.
The facts of this case can be found in THIS BLOG POST.
But to note the facts of this controversy again:
1. Calistoga Cellars has been using its brand name since 1998.
2. Napa Valley Vintners did not lodge a protest when Calistoga Cellars was founded or when it first made wine from Napa Valley grapes the didn’t happen to be grown in or around the town of Calistoga
3. In 1998 there was no legal requirement that demanded Calistoga Cellars make wine only from Calistoga-grown grapes in order to use that brand name.
4. In 1998 there wasn’t even a legally defined growing region called "Calistoga", which I suppose there would have been had the region possessed anything like the kind of viticultural significance that resulted in other areas of Napa Valley receiving American Viticultural Area status.
5. In 2005 a petition was submitted to create an official growing region called "Calistoga"
6. If the new growing region (called an AVA) is approved, it would force Calistoga Cellars to change its business model or its name. The newly created region would force any winery using "Calistoga" in its name to source 85% of its grapes from this new region.
7. The Federal department that oversees AVAs, the TTB, suggested that wineries using the "Calistoga" name in their brand before March 31, 2005, be grandfathered in and allowed to continue making wine that doesn’t meet the new requirements that were also not in place when Calistoga Cellars was founded.
The Napa Valley Vintners have put their full weight behind the idea that Calistoga Cellars should be stripped of the rights it has had for a decade, and with no compensation whatsoever. They’ve been able to get a resolution through the California Senate urging that the TTB’s wise compromise on the grandfathering of Calistoga Cellars be rejected. The Napa Valley Board of Supervisors sent a letter on behalf of the Napa Valley Vintners to the TTB urging that the TTB’s wise compromise on the grandfathering of Calistoga Cellars be rejected.
This issue has come up before with wineries in Napa Valley. Wineries with "Stag’s Leap" and "Spring Mountain" in their names were named after areas inside Napa Valley. To avoid any problems when these areas became AVAs just like is being proposed for Calistoga, they added the word "District" to the name of the AVAs a la "Stag’s Leap District" and "Spring Mountain District". The owner of Calistoga Cellars, sagely, suggested they do the same with "Calistoga", making the new AVA "Calistoga District" and thereby solving this controversy in the same way other controversies of the type have been settle.
The vintners rejected this proposal. Why? Why is this solution good for some wineries and regions in Napa Valley but not for all of them? Adding "District" to the proposed new name of the Calistoga AVA is the proper way to deal with this issue. It was done in Stag’s Leap and with Spring Mountain. If Napa Valley Vintners is gong to demand this solution not be applied to this controversy, then they should have the cajones to take a consistent and principled stand by demanding that Spring Mountain Winery and the two "Stags Leap" wineries only use grapes from those regions in their wines. Think they will? I don’t.
Instead, the Napa Valley Vintners have adopted an unprincipled, FU approach to the problem, telling Calistoga Cellars essentially to do one of the following very costly things:
1. Change the business plan you’ve had in place for a decade and that no one objected to early on and now only buy grapes from within the area planned to be called "Calistoga".
2. Go to the expense of changing the name of your winery all together, a choice that could easily kill any number of wineries were they forced to do the same
3. Start an entirely new brand for those wines that, though they are made from Napa Valley grapes, aren’t made from Calistoga grapes.
So here is the big question: WILL THE NAPA VALLEY VINTNERS PAY CALISTOGA CELLARS TO MAKE ANY OF THESE CHANGES OR WILL THEY CONTINUE TO PLEAD WITH GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND WHINE THAT THE RULES THAT DIDN’T EXIST TEN YEARS AGO SHOULD BE RETROACTIVELY APPLIED TO CALISTOGA CELLARS?
Little Calistoga Cellars has hired a Washington, D.C.-based PR firm to make their case to the TTB in Washington. I hope they win their case going way. I wish they’d have hired Wark Communications to carry out a communications campaign aimed at the wine industry. THAT would have been fun if only because one rarely has the opportunity to take ground so high that everyone else looks like snakes when from your vantage point and its so easy to offer a hand to anyone who wants to look at the issue from your higher vantage point.
There are not very many people standing up for Calistoga Cellars, a company that might be in the process of being bent over so hard by the wine industry that they won’t feel a thing for a year. When did principles go by the wayside at trade organizations? When did the Napa Valley Vintners decide to take their cues on how to act from the likes of the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association, The Swift Boaters and Ann Coulter?
Here’s the principle that should be adopted:
You don’t wait ten years after a winery has been authorized to use a brand name to rip that brand name away from them. Whether it was right or wrong to let a winery use a place name in their brand name, the objection that comes ten years after the brand name is granted comes ten years too late. And before stripping away the brand name that was applied for in good faith and granted in good faith, you look for other alternatives to fix the problem. And if you choose not to take this principled route, then you compensate the people who you are purposely trying to ruin and drive out of business for the benefit of others.