Mendocino County’s vintners and grape growers are set to vote in July on whether they want to draw attention to the region as a source in its own right for upscale wines and more than a commodity provider for producers in Napa, Sonoma and other California counties, an organizer said Friday.
Mendocino WineGrowers Inc., the county’s main industry trade group, has been working with state Sen. Mike McGuire for the past 18 months toward legislation in Sacramento that would require wines carry a name on the label for one of the county’s dozen appellations for a vineyard inside the county to also carry the “Mendocino County” name. That’s what the group’s executive director, Bernadette Byrne, told a joint hearing of Legislature wine committees.
“We want to increase the recognition of appellations in Mendocino County,” Byrne told three members of the Senate Select Committee on Califronia’s Wine Industry and the Assembly Select Committee on Wine during an informational meeting in the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University.
The term for this type of law is conjunctive labeling, and it’s already in place in Napa, Sonoma, Monterey and Paso Robles wine regions in the state.
“There is a rich history of Mendocino that can be taken worldwide,” Byrne said.
After town hall meetings in the various regions of Mendocino County, a proposal was crafted that would be “effective but not burdensome,” she said.
It calls for use of the “Mendocino County” name on the front or back label, and wineries would have a “generous” timeline for making changes to packaging, she said. Such label changes must also be approved by the federal Tax & Trade Bureau. The deadline would be January 2023.
The outcome of the vote is expected to be known by mid-August, Byrne told the Business Journal.
She told the legislators that the conjunctive labeling effort is part of a multiyear marketing strategy to overcome the historic challenges for Mendocino County wine and tourism.
“Having only small- and mid-sized wineries limits the clout of Mendocino,” she said.
As a result, Mendocino County grapes and wine in bulk often are purchased to blend at wineries based elsewhere in the state, she said. The $138 million crop in the county last year was its largest ever, she said.
The size of the huge 2018 crop has made softened the market for the county’s grapes and bulk wine, as a number of wineries are looking for buyers of their bulk wine inventory, Byrne said. And Constellation Brands’ sale earlier this year of several lower-priced brands with North Coast grape sourcing to E. & J. Gallo Winery has made the Mendocino County wine business nervous, she said.
Representing the wine committees at the hearing Friday were state Sens. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg and Bill Dodd of Napa, and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiiar-Curry, whose district includes parts of Wine Country.
Path to conjunctive labeling
Here's a trove of documents and explainers about Mendocino County's pursuit of conjunctive labeling.