Local wineries are exploring the idea of seeking a law requiring that wines from sub-appellations also print "Sonoma County" on their labels.

  • Suzanne Walsh and her husband Ned, of Ukiah, check out wines at Traverso's Gourmet Foods and Liquors on Fountaingrove Parkway, Dec. 18, 2009. The couple drive down to Santa Rosa to shop for the holidays.

Sonoma County's wineries may seek passage of a state law requiring wines from its sub-appellations like Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill to also print "Sonoma County" on their wine labels to better promote the winemaking region.

The board of the Sonoma County Vintners voted this month to explore a "conjunctive labeling" law like the one adopted for Napa County wineries in 1987.

"We see significant potential benefit to Sonoma County wineries, grape growers and tourism," said Honore Comfort, executive director of the trade group, which represents about 160 of the county's wineries.

Appellations are federally recognized grape-growing regions that help consumers know where the grapes that went into wines were grown. Within the Sonoma County appellation, there are 12 sub-appellations designating various distinct growing regions, from the hardscrabble Rockpile northwest of Lake Sonoma to the wind-blown Carneros straddling the Sonoma-Napa border southeast of Sonoma.

Federal labeling regulations currently don't require a producer of Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley or Knights Valley wines to mention anything about Sonoma County on the labels. Some do, but most do not.

The idea of pursing a conjunctive labeling law like Napa's has been around for years, but it has gathered momentum recently as the Sonoma County Vintners, Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, and Sonoma County Tourism Bureau have worked more closely together.

Many in the grape-growing community support the concept, believing that the more the word "Sonoma" appears on labels, the greater the demand will be for their grapes.

"If we had Sonoma County on every label, we'd probably have 100 million faces on retail shelves and wine lists," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. "That presence would build our brand equity, much as Napa Valley has built their brand equity for the past 20 years."

In 1989, in an effort to better market their already esteemed wine region, Napa Valley wineries supported passage of a state law requiring "Napa Valley" to be printed on wine labels from the valley's sub-appellations.

As a result, today a Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon from the Oakville American Viticultural Area, located between Rutherford and St. Helena, can print Oakville on the front label, but it must also be followed by Napa Valley.

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