The Healdsburg City Council has a message for vintner Jess Jackson: It doesn't want the name of Black Mountain changed to Alexander Mountain.
The council unanimously opposed renaming the landmark, citing concerns about the billionaire winemaker's motivation.
"Black Mountain isn't a stadium, or an arena. A private individual should not have the opportunity to get naming rights of an entire mountain," Councilman Mike McGuire said Tuesday.
Council members expressed concern that the name change was proposed so Jackson can market the wines that come from his Alexander Mountain Estate vineyard northeast of Healdsburg on the flanks of 3,128-foot-high Black Mountain.
"This is about standing up for our agricultural heritage and not selling additional cases of wine for a private producer," McGuire said.
Jackson Family Enterprises in May asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to rename the mountain, which has been called Black Mountain since the late 1800s.
In the application, the company said the change would distinguish the peak from many others in the country named Black Mountain and to honor the heritage of pioneer Cyrus Alexander for whom Alexander Valley was named.
After the application was filed, a company official acknowledged the prime reason was to bolster the case for a new American Viticultural Area for the grapes grown on Jackson's 5,400-acre estate.
Black Mountain does not belong to Jackson, but its peak looms over his property. The mountain encompasses a number of individually owned parcels.
Jackson's company several years ago applied to federal alcohol regulators for a special "Alexander Valley" subappellation, to help distinguish the premium wine grapes grown there. There has been no decision on that application.
A Jackson Family Wines spokesman said Tuesday that renaming the mountain will not only benefit the company and help it sell more wine, but also bring in more county tax revenue.
"We're not bad guys. We do contribute to the community," said company spokesman Mark Osmum.
Jackson's company is the largest wine group in Sonoma County, with about 30 different wine brands, including the flagship Kendall-Jackson.
Osmun said the name Black Mountain "is not particularly imaginative and there's not a lot of history associated with it."
Defenders of the name, however, including property owners on Black Mountain, say the peak has been called that for generations. It may have been named for the Black family, which had significant land holdings in the area around 1875.
After Jackson bought the property in the 1990s, he changed its name to Alexander Mountain Estate.
But Healdsburg officials don't think there's a compelling reason to follow suit.
"We could not see any reason valid reason to change the name," Councilman Gary Plass said Tuesday. "It sounds like a marketing ploy."
Plass said the City Council, which took the action at its Monday meeting, is usually careful to avoid weighing in on issues beyond Healdsburg. But he noted that the U.S. Board on Geographic Place Names had asked for the city's opinion on the name switch.
"We are the closest municipality to that mountain," Plass said. "We see no reason to change history at this point for the sale of a product."
Last summer, before the issue heated up, the Cloverdale City Council agreed Alexander Mountain was more fitting than Black Mountain because it reflects the proximity to Alexander Valley.
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