Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Ruling on ‘Napa’ Wine Labels Left Standing by High Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A California Supreme Court ruling that a state law requiring that wine with “Napa” on the label be made from Napa grapes is not preempted by federal law was left standing yesterday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state court had rejected a challenge by Bronco Wine Co., which argued that federal law permitting use of regional appellations as long as the label correctly states where the grapes come from took precedence over the Legislature’s effort to protect the image and marketability of wines made from Napa grapes.
Bronco, based in Central California, sells wines under several labels, including Charles Shaw, better known as “Two Buck Chuck”, so named because it sells for $1.99 in California stores. This case revolved around three other Bronco brands, Napa Ridge, Napa Creek Winery and Rutherford Vintners.
The California law passed in 2000 requires that if a wine has Napa, or a related name like Rutherford, which is in the Napa Valley, on the label, the wine must be made from at least 75 percent grapes grown in Napa County.
Napa vintners say selling wines labeled Napa but made from cheaper grapes grown elsewhere undercuts the value of their product and their years of working to build Napa’s reputation.
Bronco had argued the state law could not trump federal regulations which also carry the 75 percent requirement but exempt brands established before 1986. Bronco also said their labels were not deceptive since the origin of the grapes was spelled out, although in smaller print.
The state Supreme Court reversed a Third District Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Bronco on the preemption issue. Bronco also had challenged the law on other grounds including free speech rights, but those arguments were rejected by the Court of Appeal.
Napa vintners hoped yesterday’s action would be the last word.
“This is very exciting news,” said Hugh Davies, president of the Schramsberg winery. “Obviously we’ve got a lot at stake. It’s very exciting that we seem to have all the stars aligned and we’ve made our case in such a way I think it’s clear, it’s understood and appreciated. We’re going to be able to continue to work to protect this Napa name.”
Bronco released a statement through publicist Harvey Posert saying it was “disappointed with the Supreme Court’s denial of our request to review the state court’s erroneous ruling on our claim.” The company said it “intends to maintain all its brands and will do so in full compliance with the law.”
Since the court battle began, Bronco has begun making its Napa Creek Winery and Rutherford Vintners brands with Napa grapes.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company