Napa vintners hail court ruling

  • Los Angeles Times
  • Friday, August 6, 2004 9:00pm
  • Business

The California Supreme Court dealt a setback to maverick winemaker Fred Franzia on Thursday, much to the delight of his Napa Valley rivals.

The state court, saying it wanted to “provide stricter protection to consumers,” forbade all winemakers from using the “Napa” name or similar regional appellations on their labels unless 75 percent of the grapes in the bottle were actually grown in those places.

Although the ruling sounds sweeping, its immediate effect is quite limited: Only one company, Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co., is believed to have taken advantage of a federal loophole allowing a relative handful of vintners to use place-name designations even when most of the grapes were harvested elsewhere.

The decision could require Bronco, one of the nation’s largest producers of bulk wines, to change the names of three of its products: Napa Ridge, Napa Creek Winery and Rutherford Vintners – or to start using more grapes grown in Napa County.

Peter Brody, a lawyer for Bronco, said the company would continue to challenge the labeling requirement on constitutional grounds, including commercial free-speech rights. The court’s ruling will not be enforced until these other challenges play out.

More than 68 wineries, most of them from out of state, have supported Bronco’s position.

Thursday’s decision was applauded by Napa winemakers, who have been incensed at Franzia’s unabashed efforts to capitalize on the valley’s cachet while using cheaper grapes from other locales.

“Fred Franzia is more aggressive than anyone imagined,” said Tom Shelton, chief executive of Joseph Phelps Vineyards in St. Helena. “He has done so many things up here that are calculated to get under our skin.”

The battle stemmed from a 1986 federal law that prohibited winemakers from using geographic brand names unless three-quarters of the grapes were grown in that region. The law, however, included a provision allowing 36 brands that already used regional names to skirt the 75 percent requirement. Of those, it is believed that only the Bronco brands exploited the grandfather clause.

In 2000, at the behest of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, the state Legislature passed a law that effectively closed the loophole. At issue before the California Supreme Court was which statute applied: federal or state.

In overturning a 2002 appeals court decision, the justices came down squarely on the side of the state law. “California is recognized as a pre-eminent producer of wine, and the geographic source of its wines … forms a very significant basis upon which consumers worldwide evaluate expected quality when making a purchase,” Chief Justice Ronald M. George wrote for the court.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Photo provided by 
Economic Alliance
Economic Alliance presented one of the Washington Rising Stem Awards to Katie Larios, a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School.
Mountlake Terrace High School senior wins state STEM award

Katie Larios was honored at an Economic Alliance gathering: “A champion for other young women of color in STEM.”

The Westwood Rainier is one of the seven ships in the Westwood line. The ships serve ports in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast Asia. (Photo provided by Swire Shipping)
Westwood Shipping Lines, an Everett mainstay, has new name

The four green-hulled Westwood vessels will keep their names, but the ships will display the Swire Shipping flag.

A Keyport ship docked at Lake Union in Seattle in June 2018. The ship spends most of the year in Alaska harvesting Golden King crab in the Bering Sea. During the summer it ties up for maintenance and repairs at Lake Union. (Keyport LLC)
In crabbers’ turbulent moment, Edmonds seafood processor ‘saved our season’

When a processing plant in Alaska closed, Edmonds-based business Keyport stepped up to solve a “no-win situation.”

Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Leadership, love for the Port of Edmonds got exec the job

Shoring up an aging seawall is the first order of business for Angela Harris, the first woman to lead the Edmonds port.

The Cascade Warbirds fly over Naval Station Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald file)
Bothell High School senior awarded $2,500 to keep on flying

Cascade Warbirds scholarship helps students 16-21 continue flight training and earn a private pilot’s certificate.

Rachel Gardner, the owner of Musicology Co., a new music boutique record store on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. Musicology Co. will open in February, selling used and new vinyl, CDs and other music-related merchandise. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Edmonds record shop intends to be a ‘destination for every musician’

Rachel Gardner opened Musicology Co. this month, filling a record store gap in Edmonds. owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Burst pipe permanently closes downtown Everett toy store

After a pipe flooded the store, MyMyToystore in downtown Everett closed. Owner Tom Harrison is already on to his next venture.

Melrose and Vine Collective owner Kara Langus in her vintage collection room at her store on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New and vintage women’s boutique aims to dazzle in downtown Everett

Add some sparkle to your wardrobe: Melrose and Vine Collective opened inside a former bank building on Pacific Avenue.

Garry Clark, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
CEO steps down at Economic Alliance Snohomish County

Garry Clark, who has led the nonprofit chamber of commerce for three years, is leaving to “seek new opportunities.”

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Ex-Seagen CEO to return to Bothell to lead newly relocated biotech firm

Clay Siegall, who resigned from Seagen over allegations of domestic abuse, is now CEO of cancer therapy developer Immunome.

Molbak’s Garden Cafe in Woodinville, Washington. Photographed in 2016. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
‘Shocked and heartbroken’: Woodinville garden store Molbak’s to close

After 67 years, Molbak’s Home + Garden, a mainstay just across the county line, will cease operations early next year.

Good Cheer’s two thrift stores are great places to find Christmas decorations and other knick-knacks. (File photo by David Welton)
A guide to gift buying on Whidbey Island

Consider these unique gift idea suggestions from the South Whidbey Record and the Whidbey News-Times

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.