Napa Valley Register – “Feds award AVA to Calistoga”

Dec 4, 2009
In The News

Washington, D.C., Dec 4, 2009 -

The battle of Calistoga ended Thursday with a federal decision to grant a new American Viticultural Area appellation to Calistoga, forcing one local winery to change its business.

The decision ends a years-long battle between vintners who grow grapes on the edge of the Upvalley city but who have been blocked from using the name Calistoga on their wine labels and Calistoga Cellars, which has the name but uses grapes from other parts of wine country. Another small winery that uses grapes from Sonoma County, Calistoga Estates, is also a loser in Thursday’s ruling.
The decision comes after persistent efforts from Rep. Mike Thompson, D- St. Helena, the Napa Valley Vintners and others who sought to make Calistoga the 15th sub-appellation within the Napa Valley.

“I think it is fantastic,” said Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, Calistoga’s best-known winery. “Now we can put where we grow the grapes on the label. That’s all we ever wanted.”
Barrett is the vintner who petitioned the federal government for recognition of Calistoga, saying it had distinctive soils and growing conditions, as well as a rich history of grapegrowing and winemaking. On Thursday, Barrett said he’d already put in the call to change the look of his next release of red wines. “We’re going to be bottling our 2008s in March,” he said. “We will get Calistoga on the label.”

The effort to have Calistoga recognized by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau goes back six years. At times, the fight has been contentious, as when vintners protested the grand opening of the Calistoga Cellars tasting room on Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga in 2007, and when Thompson threw some hard questions at trade bureau Administrator John Manfreda at a 2008 congressional hearing.
The Napa Valley Vintners, a trade association representing 400 local wineries, has argued that allowing 8,500-case Calistoga Cellars to use the name undermines truth-in-labeling efforts that benefit consumers and enhance the market prominence of famous wine-growing areas.

Overall, the bureau has recognized nearly 200 AVAs around the United States. Napa Valley is an appellation, with several federally-recognized sub-appellations including Oakville, Carneros, Diamond Mountain and Howell Mountain. Under Thursday’s decision, Calistoga will join the list in 30 days.

“I am extremely pleased to announce that Calistoga has finally been designated as an American Viticultural Area, a long overdue and much deserved distinction,” Thompson said in a prepared statement. “It has been a long road, but like the incredible wines made in Calistoga, we will savor this wonderful news. This announcement is a testament to the decades of hard work Napa Valley grape growers and winemakers have put into making their wines the envy of the world.”

Napa Valley Vintners President Linda Reiff said in a prepared statement, “We could not have achieved this incredible victory for wine consumers and the wine industry had it not been for Rep. Mike Thompson. He has worked tirelessly to ensure truth-in-wine-labeling for consumers and intimately understands the need for forthright protection of wine's place of origin.”

Roger Louer and Bob Young, principals at Calistoga Cellars, declined comment Thursday, saying they had not seen the trade bureau’s ruling. The ruling represents a turnabout for Calistoga Cellars, as a tentative trade bureau decision in 2007 would have allowed them to continue to use the name.

Under Thursday’s ruling, they have three years to either change the name of their brand, which they have said would be a severe business hardship, or use it only on wines made from grapes grown in Calistoga.

The 48-page ruling by the trade bureau addressed everything from whether ruling against Calistoga Cellars was an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment to what the agency’s policy is on grandfathering in older wineries that share names with new AVAs. The document noted that several senators had weighed in on either side of the Calistoga issue, and that the agency had received more than 1,300 written comments. Many of those comments came from local vintners and lawmakers favoring Barrett’s petition. But more than 1,100 were form letters generated by a Calistoga Cellars-inspired group called Stand Up for the Little Guy.

A separate front in the Napa Valley AVA debate is in east Napa. Last year, the trade bureau rejected a proposed Tulocay sub-AVA after many vintners in the area opposed the name. Since then, vintner Tom Farella of Farrella-Park Vineyards has filed a petition to the trade bureau for a Coombsville AVA.

Napa Valley sub-AVAs

Napa Valley is a federally recognized American Viticultural Area, with 15 so-called sub-AVAs, including Atlas Peak, Calistoga, Chiles Valley District, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oak Knoll District, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville, and Wild Horse Valley.