Winery group seeks 'Sonoma Co.' label law

SANTA ROSA – The Sonoma County Vintners trade group on Jan. 20 started a campaign to get state legislation that would require labels mentioning any viticultural area within the county to also include "Sonoma County."

Executive Director Honore Comfort said conjunctive labeling, or listing more than one legally recognized place of grape origin, has been discussed in the county for 15 years, but global competition has made it more pressing.

The winery group and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission plan to gather information from members and seek legislation to make it happen. Conjunctive labeling for Napa Valley was instituted in 1987 and for the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast in 2008.

"Our future depends on 'Sonoma County' having value," said commission President Nick Frey.

The goal is to have a labeling law take effect in January 2011, with a three-year period for wine producers to adjust their labels.

Some think conjunctive labeling should be voluntary. Pam Bacigalupi of Bacigalupi Vineyards in the Russian River Valley region said the county name isn't listed on the front label for the 1,500-case-a-year vineyard-designate John Tyler brand because the focus is on the region and the site. She said she has nothing against others using the county name on the front label or putting it on the back label.

"It should be a business decision," she said.

Mr. Frey said there will be efforts to garner input on a conjunctive labeling law, but 81 percent of trade representatives polled said the county name would help sell more wine.

WineOpinions of St. Helena, under contract by backers of the label law effort, surveyed perceptions of the county name among frequent buyers of high-end wine. The survey found that the county ranked second, behind Napa Valley and ahead of Bordeaux, as a top wine region and first, ahead of Washington, Oregon and Napa Valley, in value.

"Sonoma County is unique among wine regions because it rates very high in value, quality and awareness," said Christian Miller of WineOpinions.

In a test of conjunctive labeling with a hypothetical brand, a label with the region and county names did not change price expectations, as some have feared, and may increase expectations for wine from lesser-known regions, according to Mr. Miller.

"The name 'Sonoma County' is like a safety net for consumers," he said.

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