Berger on wine: Appellations on wine labels can mean a little or a lot
Appellations on labels can tell consumers much about what’s under the cork or cap – or they may be of no use.
With some wines it’s obvious: Napa Valley on a bottle of Cabernet or Merlot indicates the wine may be excellent; to Pinot Noir lovers, Russian River Valley also implies quality.
Quality relates to many other vital parameters, of course, not just where the grapes grew. But the “where-ness” of a grape variety often tells consumers its style and potential.
Wine lovers often are ahead of the curve in this regard. They know of the high quality they can expect with Barbera grapes grown in the Sierra Foothills, Zinfandel from Napa, Paso Robles or Lodi, Chardonnay from Carneros, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, or Santa Barbara County, and Syrah and Riesling from cool climates.
Such wines are usually better than, say, Pinot Gris from Bakersfield.
And sub-appellations, which are smaller, can be even more meaningful. Most wine lovers know that Anderson Valley, Mendocino Ridge, and Potter Valley are small Mendocino County sub-AVAs, each with a unique set of soils and weather patterns that contribute to the final product.
Anderson Valley, for instance, is now widely known for aromatic white wines and Pinot Noirs of elegance and depth. Most would say that a label with an appellation “Anderson Valley” needs no further identification.
So what do you conjure up when they see the appellations River Junction, Lake Chelan, or Lehigh Valley? All are relatively obscure. River Junction is in the central San Joaquin Valley; gorgeous Lake Chelan is in Washington; Lehigh Valley is in Pennsylvania.
The 11 AVAs inside Mendocino were approved to indicate unique wine-growing conditions. Decades ago, when 80% of the county’s fruit was being sold to wineries in other regions, sub-AVAs didn’t mean much. Today that’s changing.
With more than 40% of the county’s fruit now being made in-county, Mendo’s sub-AVAs have become more meaningful.
As a result, local industry leaders have quietly begun discussing whether it’s a good idea to require conjunctive labeling on county wines – as did Napa Valley and Sonoma County years ago. Conjunctive labeling requires that if a sub-AVA is used on a label, the larger AVA also must be used.
For example, if a winery wants to use Spring Mountain as its appellation, it would have to add the larger AVA, Napa Valley.
Members of the Mendocino Winegrowers are beginning to investigate what issues they face if conjunctive labeling were adopted for Mendocino.
In some already well-known Mendo AVAs, the idea may not be popular. Such as in widely respected Anderson Valley. But lesser-known wineries might like it known that it is in a county already known for quality, such as tiny Covelo (one acre of vines). By itself, “Covelo” is largely unknown.
Since the Mendocino Winegrowers has just begun discussing this idea, no single topic has yet raised anyone’s hackles. But one issue that may arise is tied to marketing.
Wine labels often are designed by finicky designers. Many do not like text cluttering labels. Imagine what one such label could look like.
Fort Ross Winery once had a simple, elegant label design that simply stated: