Sonoma County wineries are gaining ground in their campaign for a law they hope will strengthen the region's brand and boost wine sales.
Eight of the county's nine wine and grape trade groups say they would support a law that would require wines made from local grapes to feature Sonoma County on the label. The ninth has yet to announce the results of its vote.
A similar labeling law, in effect in Napa since the late 1980s, has been widely credited with raising the valley's profile with consumers.
"It's really been great to see the wine industry come together around such a major issue that stands to benefit vintners and growers alike," said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners.
The lone holdout is the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, the county's largest industry group with 100 wineries and 150 grape growers. The group was supposed to confirm the results of its voting last week but has postponed an announcement until later this week.
Comfort said she is not concerned about the delay.
"We're waiting for the response from Russian River, but at this point we're feeling positive with the broad-based support we have across the county," Comfort said.
The delay has less to do with the controversy surrounding the proposed law and more with logistics, said Lee Hodo, spokeswoman for Russian River Winegrowers.
"It's really more herding cats. I think it's as simple as that," Hodo said.
Since debate on the subject has at times been contentious, the group has taken pains to make sure its members have all the information they need to make a wise decision, she said.
"This is something that's going to live with us for a long time," Hodo said of the law.
Member voting is complete, and now the 12-member board must decide how to convey the results, Hodo said.
Approval from the group would give Sonoma County Vintners the go-ahead to pursue what is known as a conjunctive labeling law. If approved by the state Legislature, the law would be phased in after three years to give wineries time to adjust.
Currently, wines from the county's 13 distinct growing regions don't need to put Sonoma County on their labels. For example, a pinot noir from the cool Russian River Valley or a zinfandel from the rugged Rockpile region need not note that those regions are in Sonoma County.
The new law would require wineries to print Sonoma County on the label immediately below the appellation, as in: Chardonnay, Carneros, Sonoma County.
The effort's goal is to better market the county's wines by spelling out their origin. Winery owners, however, have expressed several concerns about the proposal.
Some felt mandating the extra words would clutter their labels or cost them money to make the changes. Others from regions with Sonoma in their names — like Sonoma Coast or Sonoma Valley — felt it would be duplicative or confusing. Others, such as those from esteemed regions like the Russian River Valley, feel it is unnecessary.
But research presented by the Sonoma County Vintners showed that many consumers wouldn't know Rockpile — the smallest appellation — from a hole in the ground. The research showed that consumers' impressions of wine is enhanced when Sonoma is on the label.