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03.28.2007  
 

Two Brands Stall Calistoga AVA

Supportive Napa vintners press for approval in D.C.

 
by Paul Franson
 
 
Washington, D.C. -- Vintners from Napa Valley met with representatives of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) at the Department of Treasury last week in Washington, D.C., to try to break loose the long-pending application for an American Viticultural Area for Calistoga, but they don't report much progress. "They're not tipping their hand," said Tom Shelton, president of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, who met with the bureaucrats.

Calistoga, the last remaining major part of Napa Valley without its own AVA, applied in October 2004, and the well-recognized area would seem a natural for speedy approval. The problem is two lifestyle wineries that use "Calistoga" in their brand names yet aren't based there and don't use the 75% of local grapes that would be required.

By current law, wineries can't use misleading place names; those established before 1986 are grandfathered in.

One of the nonconforming wineries is Calistoga Cellars, established about 10 years ago and owned by Calistoga Partners, LLP, whose managing partner is Robert L. Young and winery managing partner is Roger B. Louer of St. Helena. It was formerly based in Calistoga but uses less than 50% Calistoga fruit (most is from other parts of Napa Valley).

The partnership recently sold its Calistoga property, including the winery and 32 acres, including 11 acres of vines, to vintner Nils Venge of Saddelback Cellars, and has moved to Mendocino County where it is making the wine at McNab Ranch near Ukiah.

The other nonconforming winery is Calistoga Estates, which was formed by managing director Marvin Stirman, a Washington, D.C., wine retailer. It makes its wine at Adler Fels Winery in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and has no apparent connection to Calistoga other than the name, although Stirman has 28 investors who are converting a building they've bought in Calistoga into a hospitality center for owners and trade visitors. Calistoga Estates started making wine in 2006, after the application for the Calistoga AVA was filed. The wine is marketed by Wimbledon Wine Co, Inc.

Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena Winery has spearheaded the effort to establish the Calistoga AVA, and complains that the TTB seems more concerned with protecting the equity of those two brands than protecting the wineries and vineyards in Calistoga or consumers from misleading labels. He has tried to line up sources of grapes in Calistoga so the offending wineries can comply with requirements.

The Napa Valley Vintners fear the issue compromises the whole AVA system and protection of names it has fought to maintain, including preventing Bronco Wine Company from using the "Napa Ridge" name on wines that don't contain mostly Napa grapes.

Barrett says he suspects the government wants him to change the application to "Calistoga District" or some other name to end the conflict, but he points out the term has been widely recognized for more than 130 years. He suspects political connections may be holding up the approval.
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