Proposed AVA Revisions Slammed

Napa Valley Vintners call TTB proposal a threat to the industry

by Tina Caputo
Proposed AVA Revisions Slammed
St. Helena, Calif. -- Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), the trade association in charge of promoting the Napa Valley appellation, announced today its strong opposition to proposed rulemaking regarding American wine regions.

NVV's statement condemns two proposals issued by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) on Nov. 20. Notice No. 77 suggests a compromise that would allow established wineries to continue using "Calistoga" in their brand names, although they do not source the required 85% of their grapes within the proposed Calistoga AVA. Notice. No. 78 seeks to alter regulatory standards for the establishment of AVAs within AVAs. (For more information, search keywords "AVA Applications" on this website.)

The media release issued by NVV communications director Terry Hall states: "The effects of these proposals are far-reaching and will have substantial and severe consequences to all U.S. wine regions and wine brands, but more importantly, to the truth-in-labeling rights of consumers."

The statement claims that the revised regulations "provide certain wine brands the right to market and sell their products with deceptive labels," which "jeopardizes the integrity of the vast majority of winemakers who properly and honestly label and brand their wines…. TTB should not be in the business of making new rules to protect the special interests of producers of misleading brands."

Notice No. 78, the release continues, "threatens to eliminate the common and internationally understood practice of 'nesting' wine appellations within larger wine appellations and to eliminate the existing high standards of grape source requirements, providing additional channels for consumer deception."

In addition, NVV's statement says, the proposed regulations conflict with the U.S.-supported World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which protects geographic identity in wine labeling.

Though the TTB proposals relate to a Napa Valley issue, they could have consequences for AVAs across the country.

For example, TTB applications recently filed by Paso Robles wineries to divide the Central Coast region into 11 smaller AVAs have been put on hold. Jason Haas, Tablas Creek Winery general manager, expresses his frustration on the winery's blog (tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas): "It isn't cricket for the TTB to do this to us," he writes. "We played the game according to their rules, and now they want to change the rules."

Haas adds that wineries established after the TTB regulations were changed in 1986 should know not to use a growing region's name in their brand name, unless they plan to source most of their fruit from that AVA. "This is well known within the industry, and is an important consideration for any winery in choosing its name," he says. "If, for example, you're going to call yourself Paso Robles Winery, you know that this will preclude you from ever making a 'Central Coast' or a 'California' (or even a 'Napa') AVA wine. And, this is important even if you're using a place name that has not yet been made an AVA (such as Calistoga)."

Proposed AVA Revisions Slammed
Calistoga Cellars' tasting room
According to Bob Young, a managing member of the general partner for Calistoga Cellars, "We don't think (the TTB's proposals) are an unfair exception. Our name preceded the establishment of the AVA….I think it is also important to note that all of our grapes come from Napa Valley--this is not a Fred Franzia kind of situation."

Young estimates that approximately one-quarter to one-third of Calistoga Cellars' fruit comes from Calistoga, with the remainder sourced from St. Helena and other areas of the Napa Valley.

In response to the NVV statement, TTB representative Art Resnick told Wines & Vines, "One of the purposes of publishing this NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) is to solicit comments to assist us in our efforts to find a balance between protecting the interests of existing economic enterprises while at the same time protecting against consumer deception. We do not believe these two objectives are mutually exclusive."

TTB will accept written comments on Notice No. 77 until Dec. 20. Written comments on Notice No. 78 will be accepted until Jan. 22. To submit a comment via e-mail, visit regulations.gov.
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