SONOMA: THE LAND OF TOO MANY LABELS?
IT’S ABOUT TO GET REALLY COMPLICATED to read a Sonoma County wine label. New legislation is coming into effect requiring all producers to label their wines Sonoma County even if they are part of specific sub-appellations. But the regulations are not sitting well with small winemakers. Under the new law, which comes into effect January 1, 2O14, a Russian River Valley producer will also have to indicate the broader and geographically diverse “Sonoma County”, which spans 4OO,OOOha and includes 15 sub-AVAs on the front label. “The danger of this is very real,” said Scott Rich of Talisman Wines, who makes single-vineyard-designate Pinot Noir throughout Sonoma County. “Mandatory conjunctive labeling has the potential to elevate the image of a few large producers of mid-value, mass-produced wines at the expense of many smaller producers of high-value, hand-crafted wines.” Sonoma County Vintners, the group responsible for pushing the legislation through, argues that conjunctive labeling will build brand equity and ensure that consumers understand where they are. Napa Valley enacted similar legislation in 199O.
“The fact that there are those few of us making excellent appellation-specific wine in Sonoma County is exactly why the county wants to force us into the fold,” says Jake Hawkes, a multi-generational grower and winemaker in Alexander Valley. “Our wines are pretty good and pretty expensive and I’d rather not have them associated with the ocean of dross out there.” Then there is the issue of redundancy. Ken Freeman of Freeman Vineyard & Winery and board president of West Sonoma Coast Vintners said, “We already have Sonoma Coast on the label so adding Sonoma County seems a little redundant.” Basically, it’s possible for a bottle to have the word Sonoma three times on the label: Sonoma Valley sub-AVA, the County and the city. A recent study reported on decanter.com found this can cause confusion for consumers. As frustrating as the new legislation is, there’s little that can be done about it. The law actually came into force in January 2O11, with a three-year voluntary phase-in period during which wineries could choose whether or not to participate. Any wineries not in compliance after January 1 could lose their license.