Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Napa Wine to Stay Napa Labeled

From the San Francisco Chron:

High court lets stand a ruling that says a wine's name means something
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed out of a Napa Valley wine battle Monday, leaving intact a law that favors vintners who want to reserve the Napa label for wine made from local grapes. The justices, without comment, denied a hearing on an appeal by a Stanislaus County winery that challenged a 2001 state law sponsored by Napa ValleyVintners, a 265-member trade organization.

The law prohibits using the word Napa or any recognized wine-growing area in Napa County on the label of a wine that does not contain at least 75 percent grapes from the named area.The state Supreme Court ruled in August that the law did not conflict withfederal labeling standards.

A hearing is scheduled April 20 in a state appeals court to consider other arguments by Bronco Wine Co., which brought the original suit on behalf of its Napa Ridge, Napa Creek and Rutherford Vintners labels, the latter namedafter a Napa County wine district. Bronco, which is most famous for the Charles Shaw label that's better knownas Two-Buck Chuck, contends that the California law pertaining to Napa naming rights violates freedom of speech and interferes with interstate commerce.

Until those issues are resolved, the state labeling law will not take effect, said Linda Reiff, executive director of Napa Valley Vintners. However, Monday's action was still a major step forward, she said."The Supreme Court decision is wonderful news for the Napa Valley,'' Reiff said. "Our position is simple: If it says Napa on the label, it should beNapa in the bottle.

'The case is far from over, said Peter Brody, lawyer for Bronco Wine. He saidthe Napa vintners and the state had urged the Supreme Court to wait until all issues in the case are decided. The company's appeal was supported by 62 wineries in 18 states seeking to preserve their ability to use geographic brand names. Bronco uses grapes from other counties in its Napa Ridge, Napa Creek andRutherford Vintners brands, which all predate 1986 federal regulations that prohibit new wine brand names from misstating the origin of their grapes.

The regulations allowed existing brands to continue, however, as long as the source of their grapes was disclosed prominently on the bottle. Bronco, for example, printed Lodi beneath the brand name on its label for Napa CreekWinery Chardonnay.

A state appeals court ruled that the federal regulations allowed Bronco to maintain its labels, despite the 2001 California law, but the state Supreme Court overturned that decision last year. The unanimous decision said federal law allows states to set labeling standards that are stricter than the federal requirements.

The geographic source of California wine "forms a very significant basis upon which consumers worldwide evaluate expected quality,'' said the state court ruling by Chief Justice Ronald George. The U.S. Supreme Court case is Bronco vs. Jolly, 04-945.

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