Protecting Napa Name
Napa Valley Vintners Work to Protect the Appellation
Trade Association Leads State, Federal and International Efforts
The Napa Valley Vintners have worked diligently for more than 65 years to create and promote the Napa Valley Appellation. The words "Napa Valley" represent much more than a name. These words define an official appellation, and as such the NVV has assumed the duty of preserving it for those who have earned the right to put it on their labels, and protecting it from those who would pirate it for their deceptive purposes.
In 1986 the BATF (now TTB) changed its rules to require that a brand name with a viticulturally significant geographic reference in the name must use enough fruit from the named region to meet the appellation of origin requirement. However, the BATF also decided that geographic brand names existing prior to 1986 did not have to abide by these new rules. The result is that there are some brands that use the word "Napa" in the name, but do not contain any Napa grapes.
There are 39 "grandfathered" labels containing either the word Napa or the name of one of the wholly contained appellations within Napa Valley that have the potential for misuse.
What the NVV is Doing
Realizing the difficulties of finding consensus on this topic on an industry-wide basis, the NVV worked first to solve this issue on a local basis.
The NVV's goal is simple: A wine label should not suggest the grapes come from Napa unless they really do. Eliminating consumer confusion is one of the strongest reasons for the NVV's concern over misleading labels. In fact, the NVV commissioned an independent, scientific, national poll (by the Field Research Group) that determined a great majority of the people surveyed found it confusing if a brand name says "Napa" but the wine does not have grapes from Napa Valley.
In 2000 the NVV successfully sponsored state legislation that requires any brand using the name Napa, or any of the names of appellations wholly contained within Napa County, to qualify at minimum for the Napa County appellation of origin. The regulation is a natural adjunct to the state law enacted in 1990 that requires "Napa Valley" to be used on the label in conjunction with any of the appellations wholly contained within Napa Valley.
In late 2000, Bronco Wine Company filed a lawsuit challenging the new state law. The procedural rules in California law provide that a party with a strong interest in a matter before the courts can intervene and become a party to the lawsuit. After the hard-won battle to get the legislation signed into law, the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors decided to intervene in the court case to allow it to take part in the defense of the statute.
Nearly two years later, the California Third Appellate Court ruled against the new legislation on the grounds that it is preempted by federal law.
The NVV and the State of California appealed to the California Supreme Court and in a 6-0 unanimous decision in 2004 the Court unanimously ruled in NVV's favor on the issue of preemption.
Bronco appealed the California Court's decision to the US Supreme Court, which decided not to hear the case in March 2005. This decision cleared the way for oral arguments in the lower court on the remaining three issues of free speech, interstate commerce, and takings. The following month, noted Constitutional law expert Kathleen Sullivan made arguments on behalf of the NVV and the State of California requested that the California Court of Appeal rule on all three issues simultaneously.
The Court's decision came quickly when in May 2005 it ruled unanimously in the NVV's favor and to uphold the state law. "Corks are popping in the Napa Valley," said Sullivan, the former Stanford Law School dean who argued the case on behalf of the NVV. "Napa vintners are extremely happy that the brand name that has taken so much hard work and passion to build up over 150 years can now be protected against a knockoff industry and fake Napa wine."
Bronco appealed this decision to the California Supreme Court and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court. Nonetheless, this decision was upheld and indeed a victory for Napa Valley and for wine consumers.
Additional NVV Efforts on This Issue
The NVV has a multi-pronged approach to advocating the importance of place names. In addition to the legal issue described above, the NVV has partnered with other, like-minded wine regions to communicate the importance of place of origin regarding wine. Established in Napa Valley in the summer of 2005, the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place and Origin now has 13 world-famous winegrowing regions as signatories to the declaration, which outlines a set of principles aimed at educating consumers about the importance of location to wine.
In 2007, NVV received great news from Brussels, when the association learned that Napa Valley had become the first non-European Union agricultural product to receive Geographic Indication protection throughout the EU.
In 2012, NVV achieved another milestone when it became the first wine region in the world to receive Geographic Indication protection in mainland China.
The NVV continues to monitor wine labels in the marketplace to ensure the proper use of the Napa Valley name and the NVV intends to take any and all steps to prevent the misuse of the Napa Valley name for wine not made from Napa grapes.