NEW LABELING LAWS IN EFFECT
IT WAS SIGNED into law more than three years ago but a bill requiring Sonoma County wines to include the words “Sonoma County” somewhere on the label finally came into effect January 1. Given all the time they’ve had to prepare, not to mention the marketing potential the new law may offer “the majority of the wineries are on board with this,” said Ravenswood founder and winemaker Joel Peterson. Many wineries were using the “Sonoma County” designation prior to the law, Peterson said. That includes his own Ravenswood, where “much of our bottle labeling already included the Sonoma County conjunctive labeling.” Assembly Bill 1798, “The Sonoma County Conjunctive Wine Label Initiative”, was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in September 2O1O. Since then it has been phased in over a three-year period, and as of the first of the year, full compliance is mandatory. That’s a good thing, according to Peterson. “Napa Valley has had this for a very long time. And it’s worked well for them, in the sense that it creates a united banner, if you will, for the wineries to fly under.” Although the city and Sonoma valley have always enjoyed the name recognition, there are other important American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), in the county – the Russian River Valley, for example, or Alexander Valley – that can benefit from the Sonoma brand, Peterson said. The law applies only to wineries designating one of Sonoma County’s 13 AVAs on their label; if they drop the AVA altogether, they don’t need to include “Sonoma County” either.
Vintner Michael Muscardini, of Muscardini Cellars, said he supports the bill, but is uncertain of its merits. “I’m actually working on four labels right now,” he said. And as he worked out the designs, he was keeping in mind that “I have to use the words ‘Sonoma County’ somewhere.” Although that’s OK with him, Muscardini said he likes to “keep my bottles very clean, on the front label in particular.” So he wondered: While it reads “Sonoma Valley” on the front label, should it also read “Sonoma County” beneath that? “We tried to argue that Sonoma Valley wines didn’t have to say ‘Sonoma County.’ How many Sonomas do you need?” he said, adding, “That didn’t go over very well.” A compromise was worked out with vintners allowed to put the county designation anywhere on the bottle. But Muscardini remained skeptical on whether it would have much of an impact. “It’s not going to promote people buying more wine,” he said. The website of Sonoma County Vintners states that conjunctive labeling is intended “to build brand equity for Sonoma County wines and preserve and strengthen Sonoma County’s position as a recognized world-class wine region.” According to a bill analysis by the state, “This provision mirrors existing conjunctive labeling provisions for Napa, Lodi and Paso Robles.” It was not immediately clear how effective labeling rules have been in increasing sales in those areas.