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The California state appeals court has ruled that a 2000 California
state law is valid and that California is allowed to have stricter
labeling standards than the federal government. (New story, may require
The federal government began to define the meaning of wine growing
regions, like Napa, Sonoma, Rutherford or Carnos in the 1980s. The
federal rules say you cannot say Napa on the label, unless at least 75%
of the wine is made from grapes grown in Napa. The federal government,
however, made an exception for existing wineries that used a region
name like Napa as part of the winery name. These wineries were
grandfathered in and allowed to use Napa as part of the winery name
even when the wine was not from Napa. This included wineries like Napa
Ridge and Napa Creek.
The Napa Ridge and Napa Creek wine labels are now owned by the Bronco
Wine Company, a big central valley wine producer. Bronco is most widely
known for its deep discount labels, like "Two Buck Chuck", and
apparently sells mostly wine from central valley grapes under the Napa
Ridge and Napa Creek wine labels.
This offended the Napa wine growers, so in 2000 they got the California
state legislature to pass a stricter labeling law to forbid using wine
region names in the winery name unless 75% of the grapes actually came
from that region. Bronco has been fighting this law in court claiming
that California cannot set tighter labeling requirements than the
federal government and that this law violates Bronco's free speech
rights. The appeals court rejected those arguments and said the law was
Bronco has 90 days to decide if they will appeal to the California
Supreme Court. Meanwhile they are still selling wine under the Napa
Ridge and Napa Creek labels that is not made from Napa grapes.
I'm much more offended by that than by the misappropriation of European
IMO if a California wine says "Napa" anywhere on the label, it should be
made from fruit grown in Napa. Period.
A European place name on a (say) California wine is an obvious nod and a
wink to a style from the Old Country - sort of an homage. I don't fret
about the term "California Champagne" because everybody knows exactly what
that means, and is aware that the wine isn't from Champagne, but is merely
made in the style of wine from Champagne. I know that really irritates the
French, but AFAIC it's pretty much a non-issue anymore. Most wineries no
longer do it.
OTOH, I'd expect a California wine labeled "Napa Ridge" to be from a
vineyard overlooking or in the Napa Valley. The French (e.g.) are very
picky about such issues within their Country, and rightfully so. They sure
as hell wouldn't allow the words "Rhone" or "Burgundy" to appear on the
label of a bottle whose contents came from the Midi. Neither should crappy
California wine from the Central Valley be permitted to use the word "Napa"
on its label.