Napa Valley Vintners joined representatives from Paso Robles, Sonoma and 12 other international wine regions gathered in New York Wednesday to announce a growing consumer demand for truth-in-labeling on wine labels.
The wine regions are all signatories to the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin, a coalition formed in 2005 when the first global declaration was signed. The organization has since doubled in size and welcomed its two newest members, Rioja and Long Island, at this year’s meeting.
At issue is the ongoing effort to dissuade producers from using place names on wine labels when the wines are not from that region, and to put an end labeling wines “bungundy” “chablis” “port” “sherry” or “champagne” unless they have been produced in that wine region.
The Napa Valley Vintners has been leading the effort to protect the Napa Valley name and ensure that bottles sporting labels with the Napa Valley name are, indeed, Napa Valley wines.
In return, said Vintners’ spokesman Rex Stults, “it works both ways. We support a collaborative effort for our friends in Sherry (Jerez), Porto and Champagne.”
One of the names most abused is “Sherry,” the British version of the name for the distinctive wines produced in Jerez, Spain. What shows up in $4.99 bottles of “cooking sherry” sold in U.S. supermarkets bears no relation to the renowned wines of southern Spain, noted Terry Hall, also from Napa Valley Vintners.
César Saldaña, director general from the Consejo Regulador del Vino de Jerez, said what is encouraging to their efforts, is the results of a poll of 1,000 U.S. wine drinkers, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.
“The news today is that consumers back our efforts,” Saldaña said by telephone from the New York meeting. “Seventy percent of the consumers said they would be less likely to buy wines with misleading labels. It works against the producers of these wines (to do this).
The poll also reported that:
• 79 percent consider the region where a wine comes from an important factor when buying a bottle of wine;
• 75 percent report they would be less likely to buy a wine if they learned that it claimed to be from a place like Champagne, Napa Valley or Oregon, but was not;
• 84 percent say the region a wine comes from is extremely important in determining its quality;
• 96 percent say consumers deserve to know that the location where wine grapes are grown is accurately stated on wine labels; and
• 98 percent support establishing worldwide standards for all winemakers that would require that they accurately state the location where wine grapes are grown on wine labels.
“The research released today shows consumers are more focused on product origins than ever before and it isn’t just a passing concern, but one they feel extraordinarily strong about,” said Linda Reiff, executive director of Napa Valley Vintners.
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“When a place name is misused, a part of the identity of that distinctive wine region is lost and consumers can be misled,” she added. “This poll shows that U.S. consumers understand this and are looking for clear labeling of wine place names when they purchase wines.”
Christopher Taranto, marketing director for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance noted, “Misleading consumers to believe that their wines come from a place they do not is damaging to the worldwide marketplace for wines. Working with Porto, Jerez and Chianti Classico and all of the partners in the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin, we call on the U.S. to support our efforts and protect these wines.”
“Regions like Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Tokaj and Rioja are unlike any place else in the world, and the evolution and growth of the wine industry rests on the protection of place names,” said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners Association. “American wine drinkers are becoming more and more educated about what they consume and as the poll results show location matters. Wine labels need to reflect the true regions from which a wine hails and consumers must be protected from those who fail to recognize the distinguishing features that make all regional wines second to none.”
Chefs, sommeliers sign on
At the meeting, the participants also released a letter signed by chefs and sommeliers supporting the truth in wine labeling movement.
The signatories include Napa Valley chefs Thomas Keller and Ken Frank, also with international culinary stars like Ferran Adrià, Daniel Boulud, Alexandre Ferrand, Wolfgang Puck, Antoine Hernandez, Michel Richard, José Andrés, Pontus Elofsson and Charlie Palmer.
“Americans care about where their food and wine are from more than ever before, so we must stand together to ensure that consumers accurately receive the location-driven products they desire,” said Frank, chef and owner of La Toque in Napa.
“We support the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin because place names are central to understanding the foods and wines we work with every day,” said José Andrés, who owns restaurants in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Los Angeles. “We celebrate foods and wines from all over the world every day, because they bring special elements to the table and we believe that clear labeling is central to this experience.”
The coalition hopes that the results of consumer survey data, combined with the support of chefs and other food and wine experts — in addition to majority of the world’s leading wine regions now working in unison — will push lawmakers and others around the globe to protect wine place names in the U.S. and beyond.
The Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin was originally signed on July 26, 2005, and now has the support of 15 international wine regions: Champagne, France; Chianti Classico, Italy; Jerez, Spain; Long Island, New York; Napa Valley; Oregon state; Paso Robles; Porto, Portugal; Rioja, Spain; Sonoma County; Tokaj, Hungary; Victoria, Australia; Walla Walla Valley, Washington; Washington state; and Western Australia.
To lend support and read the full text of the Declaration, visit protectplace.com.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story has been changed to reflect the correct last name of a source.