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Backers of strict location-based wine labeling, including those from the Napa wine industry, gained momentum in their efforts in March, taking their tune to the halls of the U.S. Congress and earning an official nod from lawmakers in the process.

Members of the Wine Origins Alliance, a mingling of wine regions worldwide, met with legislators in early March to stress their wish for stronger laws regarding “accurate and clear” wine labeling. Founded in Napa in 2005, the 23-member Alliance seeks to counter what they say is the misuse of specific wine place names, like Napa Valley, in the labeling of wines.

For David Pearson, chair of the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors and Napa’s representative on the Wine Origins Alliance, the premise of the group’s work is “so simple that it shouldn’t require persuasion for anybody; that wine labels should be correctly labeled and correctly identify the origin of the grapes as labeled.”

In meeting with lawmakers, the group cited the results of a recent poll of 800 wine consumers, of which 94 percent said they support laws that would “protect consumers from misleading wine labels.” The poll also relayed that 70 percent of those consumers feel that allowing winemakers in the U.S. to use the names of foreign wine regions in labeling their wine is “deceptive” and makes it harder to prevent the misuse of American wine region names on foreign bottles.

In the U.S., recognized wine regions – called American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs – are protected by rules requiring that if a wine is labeled with the region’s name, 85 percent of the wine must be made from grapes grown in that AVA. However, no such protection exists for the use of foreign names like Champagne, Port, Chianti or Chablis, which are regularly used in labeling by American winemakers.

Representing the French regions of Bourgognes and Chablis, Christian Moreau was among the international members of the Alliance to meet with U.S. lawmakers this month.

“For Burgundy and especially Chablis, it’s nice to join this venture,” Moreau said, “because you know, Chablis is probably one of the wines which has been most bastardized around the world, especially in [the U.S.] by the big company Gallo, with their jug wine called Chablis.”

Moreau noted though that in the last 10 to 15 years, he and others from the region had come across less jug wine erroneously dubbed “Chablis.”

As for the group’s overall mission and their approaching Congress, Moreau said, “I think we have to respect the consumer. I think this is very important for the future of the wine trade.”

The group has been steadily gaining traction over the years and added new member regions as recently as last year. During Vinexpo Bordeaux, an international wine trade show held last June, the group welcomed representatives from wine regions in British Columbia, Texas and Australia’s McLaren Vale. Each became the newest signatories of the Alliance’s credo, the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin.

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Now, with their meeting of lawmakers in Washington, the group has earned a resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledging the value of wine region distinction and declaring that the legislative body “supports efforts to promote awareness of and appreciation for distinctive American wine-growing regions in the United States and abroad.”

Noting that the U.S wine industry today accounts for 10 percent of global wine production, the resolution read, in part, that once AVAs and other region names are protected in a foreign country, “it helps vintners effectively promote their products and increase awareness of their region.”

As the Alliance continues to build on its movement, integral to its cause will be “region hunting” for more potential members, Pearson said. “Because the more people that get into the Alliance, the more that there’s motivation, as far as I can see, for other regions to be at the table. Why would you not want to be at this table?”

For now, Pearson said, “The group has got momentum and enthusiasm and determination. And it’s something when you get the French and Californians in a room together and we’re not arguing over anything.”

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Wine Reporter / Copy Editor

Henry Lutz covers the local wine industry. He has been a reporter and copy editor for the Register since 2016.