Why Are Napa Valley Wineries Seeking to Harm Wine Drinkers?

foxhenhouseIn 2015 LESS THAN on half of one percent of Napa Valley’s grape crop was sold to out-of-state wineries and home winemakers. And the vast majority of those grapes that were made into wine in another state will be sold in that state and will say right on the bottle, “Napa Valley”, “2015”. The point is that the labeling will be 100% accurate.

However, the Napa Valley Vintners and the California Wine Institute are making the case that this shouldn’t be allowed, because…..well, because “Napa Valley”.

The Napa Valley Register recently covered the Vintners’ and the Wine Institute’s effort to stop this practices of out-of-state wineries properly labeling wine. They, along with CA Representative Mike Thompson, want to change the rules so that a winery outside CA that purchases grapes from California and finishes the wine in their state can only place “American” on the label as the origin of the grapes, rather than the actual place the grapes came from.

Why do this? Why make it more difficult for consumers to know what they are drinking? Napa Valley grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer has an answer:

“I’m very concerned about the quality of wine that goes to the consumer with Napa Valley on it and the ability to control that when it’s made in a winery out-of-state is majorly decreased. There’s a culture here in Napa of quality and I’m not sure that extends to Des Moines, Iowa.”

Has Andy tasted some of the wines that were made in Napa Valley from Napa Valley grapes? He has. That culture of quality only extends so far in the Valley and he knows it.

The tactics being taken by the Napa Valley Vintners and the California Wine Institute remind me very much of the tactics of American wholesalers when they try to defend their opposition to direct shipping or when they try to defend the Franchise laws they love so much.

If you ever want to witness plain old, simple stupid, ask a wholesaler to tell you why direct shipments are bad and Franchise laws are good. It’s like listening to a fox rail against hen-house technology.

The Napa Valley Vintners and the California Wine Institute are playing the same zero sum, plain old, stupid rhetoric game. There is no concern for the consumer whatsoever and no concern for the industry. Just themselves.

The Feds are now in the process of determining of the consumers should be given less information about the wines they buy. Let’s hope they side with the consumers and the wine industry rather than the Fox.


17 Responses

  1. Jon Bjork - December 13, 2016

    I think it is arrogant for one wine region to force such a major change in rulemaking on all United States wine regions. Perhaps each individual region should decide protectionist laws for their own regions just like conjunctive labeling or as states decide percentages of blends. Let the commissions of each region handle enforcement.

  2. Jon Bjork - December 14, 2016

    Put in slightly different words:
    How about if each wine region had the ability to enforce a portion of the rules? For example, with conjunctive labeling, if someone doesn’t properly list a sub-AVA along with the master AVA, perhaps they can levy a fine of $5,000 per vintage of that label. Same for using an AVA on a label that is shown as bottled in another state. That way Napa can prevent out-of-state wineries from bottling with their name, if they so choose, however another region could be perfectly fine with an out-of-state winery bottling using that region’s AVA’s.

  3. Jon Bjork - December 14, 2016

    It should be very easy for one commission staff member once a month to use LabelVision to do a search each month for COLA’s that show “bottler location stateCA” and “Appellation=napa%”. Any hits get a letter of proposed assessment in much the same manner that a winery received from the liquor commission of another state if they detect an illegal shipment occurred.

  4. Tom Wark - December 14, 2016

    Jon: Yes!

  5. Napa Smith - December 14, 2016

    Misleading article and title – the issue that is opposed by Napa and the vintners is not the labeling of wine bottled out of state as ‘Napa’. Currently, if you put any amount of ‘Napa’ wine into a bottle, no matter what the percentage, you can label it as ‘Napa’. Napa as an AVA requires 75% or more of fruit in the bottle to be coming from Napa. So why should Des Moines Iowa be able to label a bottle with 2% Napa wine, 98% Des Moines Columbard as a Napa wine?

  6. Tom Wark - December 14, 2016


    You telling me that if I have 1% Napa-born juice in my wine I can put a “napa valley” ava on the label? I don’t think so. Federal law requires that to use any AVA (Napa Valley included) there must be 85% of the grapes from that AVA.

  7. Roger King - December 14, 2016

    @NapaSmith Clearly has no concept of what the bottling laws for AVA are. And this is a big part of this issue, FAKE comprehension of the AVA system. The AVA system has always been predicated on the regional source of the grapes, set by survey lines for an AVA, set by political lines for County and State. We have built an entire concept about place where the vines grow based upon soils, weather, climate; but not about fermentation tank location.

    Now NVV wants to use an archane aspect of labeling to diminish all other regions that choose to buy grapes and make wine where they are. The consumer should always know first and foremost where the grape came from and using the AVA system we get that done. We have no legal authority common tasting panels that certify winemaking conformity to a region, as in Europe, most likely because our American culture has been about FREE Enterprise not prescribed enterprise, protecting the established.

    Kudos to CAWG for calling for abandonment of Notice 160, 160A and then immediately engaging the entire industry in a fresh look at our system and how it should be used to inform the consumer with 100% factual relevance.

  8. Napa Smith - December 14, 2016

    @Tom Wark
    That is correct unless you apply for a COLA exemption – the loop hole that the Vintners and Napa wineries are trying to close. If you are bottling the wine and selling the wine ONLY in your home state (not California), you can apply for an exemption from standard COLA regs INCLUDING labeling a wine as “Napa” though it is under the 85% rule.

    ” Bottlers are exempt from the labeling requirements of the FAA Act if they show to the
    satisfaction of the Secretary that the wine will not be sold, offered for sale, or shipped or delivered for shipment, or otherwise introduced in, interstate or foreign commerce. ”
    ref: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-06-22/pdf/2016-14696.pdf

    Edit: My mistake on original post – 85%, not 75% – was writing in varietal composition

  9. Napa Smith - December 14, 2016

    @Roger King
    Kudos for joining a conversation with no real evidence to support your idealistic yet misinformed “knowledge” of AVA labeling laws /S

    Read reply to Tom Wark

    • Roger King - December 14, 2016

      The point being exempt for that state only is that part of labeling law that needs to be completely changed to simply label by appellation regardless and eliminate the exemption. That provides 100% factual basis of source for the consumer, which is what the labeling laws are attempting to create if read closely.

      • Napa Smith - December 14, 2016

        Which is exactly what they are trying to do

        In September 2015, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Congressman Mike Thompson, and 48 other Members of Congress wrote to TTB Administrator John Manfreda and requested that TTB use itsregulatory authority “to ensure that all wines bearing AVA terms—regardless of where they are sold—meet the clear and understandable American Viticultural Area rules.”

        ref: https://napavintners.org/issues/downloads/Joint_WI_NVV_Comment_Letter_12_06_16.PDF

        Please read before making more inane comments regarding an issue you know so little of. Tom Wark is claiming that Napa Vintners are trying to disallow other regions from using Napa on their label which is entirely untrue thus my discontent with the article and claims of it being misleading. Napa Vintners, Barbara Boxer, Mike Thompsons, etc simply want the loop hole closed.

  10. Thomas Kruse - December 14, 2016

    I don’t think it should be against the law to tell the truth.

  11. john hinman - December 14, 2016

    We have written two blog posts with extensive analysis of the Notice 160 issues. In our view it comes down to truth in labeling, which can be accomplished while still protecting AVA integrity. CAWG also submitted extensive comments that are worthy of review. We encourage comments asking the TTB to keep the comment period open while the stakeholders discuss the various regulatory options.



  12. larry mawby - December 14, 2016

    i didn’t read through all the comments, so maybe someone has already suggested this, but… if the labeling regs were changed to allow ava’s to be used on labels no matter how far away the ava was from the winery producing and bottling the wine, wineries in states all over the country could truthfully label their products. the rub, currently, is that if a winery, for whatever reason, brings in grapes from out of state [a state that does not border the winery] the ava cannot be shown, which means that vintage and varietal cannot be shown, which means that if a winery wants to tell their customer about the grapes origin, they must apply for label approval to sell only within the winery’s state.

    • Roger King - December 14, 2016

      Larry, that is pretty much exactly what is going on. You can show the vintage and varietal but are relegated to the use of AMERICAN as the appellation if grapes sold to winery outside state or contiguous states. The exemption is kinda BS as it attempts to carve out sale within the State and should not be used, rather simply let all wineries label factually to the grape source which is best defined under our AVA system. The rub is there is a gapping hole between the AVA system and labeling using the identifiers of source such as an AVA, County or State. NVV an WI are proposing a 4 point plan that disallows use of AVA on front but can state “Grape Source Information” on back label but, in their proposal, you cannot mention the AVA even there but can list the address of the vineyard and county. So how many consumers know San Juaquin County is Lodi etc etc. Dropping the exemption and focusing on factual labeling would suggest universally use appellation of grape source openly. Hinman blogs are very good resource to understand this as the label laws are in place to inform the consumer not hide things from them.

  13. Jon Bjork - December 15, 2016

    Another point: TTB will approve COLAs that do not conform to state law.

    For example, California has conjunctive labeling laws in at least a few AVA’s. If a label only shows a sub-AVA, omitting the master AVA, TTB will still approve the COLA, no matter if the COLA was flagged as an exemption or for regular use.

    Since TTB’s September upgrades to COLAs Online, there is much more control over the submission of AVA’s via the system. Perhaps TTB could flag (not regulate) submissions that do not conform to state law with a message, as TTB currently prints a disclaimer on type sizes. Or we could get more aggressive and ask TTB to not allow their system to accept COLA submissions for certain AVA’s if the combination of data clearly indicates a non-conforming label.

    In any case, it would be up to the winegrape commission representing the AVA to submit a petition to TTB to add these filters and messages to the system.

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