The Wheels Fell Off The Wagon in Saint Helena

Wheels The city of Saint Helena in the middle of Napa Valley wants to prohibit tasting rooms in its city limits from tasting and selling any wines that do not carry the "Napa Valley" appellation or a Napa Valley sub-appellation on the label.

What I can't figure out is why the Saint Helena City Council doesn't just go all the way and prohibit the sale or tasting of any wines that don't cary the "Saint Helena" sub appellation on the bottle. With the approval of this new regulation, the Saint Helena City Council seems to want to appear as parochial and silly as they possibly can. Why take half measures? Why not jump the shark completely and appear completely nuts?

And it IS nuts to prohibit the sale and tasting of non-Napa Valley wines in it's city's tasting rooms. Is there really a danger that Saint Helena-based tasting rooms will degrade the Saint Helena or Napa Valley brands if they pour tastes of the wineries' Mendocino Pinot Noirs? Maybe there is.

I'm not a free market purist. How can you be when there is so much at stake where the environment and community planning is a critical part of the quality of life of any region. But actually dictating the appellation of wines that can and cannot be poured? When this sort of thing takes up city council time hasn't the moment come when the issue of disbanding the council for lack of legitimate things to do needs to be debated? Clearly the wheels have fallen off the wagon at Saint Helena's City Hall.

Hat tip to Marcia @ Cornucopia Creations for alerting me to the story.

10 Responses

  1. tom merle - October 29, 2009

    A non issue really, though there are some areas that include tasting rooms for producers that source grapes out of the appellation and don’t have their office in that appellation (I’m thinking of Scott Harvey Wines’ tasting room in Sutter Creek). I say they should go all the way and limit permits to tasting rooms that pour at least 50% of wines made from St. Helena grown grapes. I would however allow wineries whose address is in St. Helena but sources non St. Helena (but Napa) grapes.

  2. Kara - October 29, 2009

    I think it is an onerous, unneccessary law that is ultimately bad for consumers and wineries because it takes away lower price points. Not all consumers are ready to buy a case of Napa Cab for $50 but they might buy a case of high-quality California Cab or other AVA for $20 a bottle. If that option is taken away, will consumers looking for a lower price point only taste but never buy because the wines are out of their price range? I don’t see why St. Helena is making this an issue; most wineries themselves limit which wines they’ll pour in their tasting rooms to match their brand image (which tends to be Napa focused), so is it really necessary to have a ban? Will people go to a French wine tasting room in St. Helena? Probably not – let the market decide which wines will sell and which won’t.

  3. tom merle - October 29, 2009

    If I were younger and more entrepreneurial I would open a co-op tasting room featuring wines from outlying areas that respond to the bottle shock that visitors experience when visiting tasting rooms of St. Helena wineries. I would feature Lodi, Mendo, El Dorado, Solano wines priced in the high teens and low 20s. Visitors are in “Wine Country” to see the sights and buy some vino. Back in Peoria they could brag that they scored some superb California wines unavailable in Illinois, and they didn’t have to drive to those more remote areas. Are you in Kara?

  4. The Wine Mule - October 30, 2009

    Allowing people to taste wine in St. Helena that is not from St. Helena is unpatriotic. Do you realize that parts of Sonoma were once settled by RUSSIANS? Anyone who advocates tasting Sonoma wines in the Napa Valley is obviously siding with the terrorists. Why do you hate freedom?

  5. Richard - October 30, 2009

    This is absolutely wonderful! Seems that “Berkeley thinking” or “San Francisco Liberals” have come to that conservative bastion of St. Helena! Somebody call Bill O’Reilly!
    OK, now that I’ve removed my tongue from my cheek, this does appear to be very insular thinking – or “group think.” First of all – why does it matter? The “law” does not apply to wine shops that sell wine and to my knowledge, none of the tasting rooms in and around St. Helena have tastings of anything other than their own Napa Valley produced wines? Or am I missing something?
    Though, I agree with Tom Merle – perhaps we should all combine resources and open, not a “Wine Shop” but a “Tasting Room” in St. Helena that ONLY serves wines that are NOT from Napa and then when the St. Helena powers that be threaten to shut us down, we go to court and watch them wipe the egg off their collective face. Would this stand up in court? No, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m not an attorney (and I don’t play one on TV and didn’t stay at an Holiday Inn last night either), but this just seems to be wacky.
    There, I’ve said it – the “W” word – wacky. St. Helena can now take it’s rightful place alongside Berkeley and San Francisco – maybe the three cities can combine and form the “Combined Council of Wackiness.” Of course, this is what makes the Bay Area great…

  6. Charlie Olken - October 30, 2009

    SF and Berzerkeley wacky? Not any wackier than Pennsylvania with its State-Owned licker stores or the Jack Daniel’s county in Tennessee that makes the world’s best-selling whiskey but is “dry”.

  7. tom merle - October 30, 2009

    Pennsylvania is laughing all the way to the bank. I bet states like Iowa that also used to have state run package stores wished they were back in that biz.

  8. Dylan - November 1, 2009

    I can understand if a particular tasting room wanted to dedicate itself to wines only bearing the appellation, but the entire town? Does anyone know how to change a wagon wheel?

  9. El Jefe - November 1, 2009

    A different perspective perhaps: Here in downtown Murphys, in the Sierra Foothills, we now have tasting rooms pouring wines from outside our region – including Napa and the central coast. We have done the hard work to create an interesting and different wine region, and then to have carpetbaggers come in and take advantage of it, well, kinda sucks. On the other hand, trying to legislate the problem away would also suck, and would likely end up tying the hands of local winemakers. St. Helena would be better served spending their energy on creating the best wine experience for their visitors and residents, rather than knee jerk protectionism…
    (All that said, if someone does open the “Not Napa” tasting room, I’m in. 😉

  10. Mark - November 2, 2009

    It is pretty wacky overall and the exact opposite of what I had hoped we’d start seeing. I had hoped the bad economy would encourage more areas(especially states) to loosen their shipping regulations, unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg in the tightening restrictions game.

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