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Oregon delegates call on feds to investigate Napa Valley winery's pinot noir

Salem Reporter

A letter released Tuesday asks the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to investigate if a Napa Valley winery is misusing the names of Oregon's winemaking regions
 

Oregon's Congressional delegation officially called for an investigation Tuesday into a Napa Valley winery accused of appropriating the state's reputation for pinot noir.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden joined Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, all Democrats, in asking the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to look into labeling practices by Copper Cane LLC.

Copper Cane makes two pinot noirs — "The Willametter Journal" and "Elouan" — that have drawn the ire of Oregon's wine industry for including on its products the names of some of Oregon's federally protected wine regions.

The winery buys from grapes from Oregon vineyards. It ships the grapes to its headquarters in Rutherford, Calif. where the wine is made, fermented and blended. Its labels and advertising say the wines hail from the Willamette, Rogue and Umpqua valleys of Oregon.

In the joint statement, Oregon's delegation called the practices "deceptive" and "unfair to the Oregon wine industry and consumers." The delegation called for an official field audit of the wines.

"The state of Oregon is known as a world-class wine region producing extraordinary wines from over 760 wineries and more than 1,140 vineyards growing 72 grape varieties," the delegation said. "Oregon winemakers pride themselves on high-quality grapes and wines and have earned a global reputation for exceptional quality."

"If the company is out of compliance, the Oregon lawmakers asked that any offending products should be removed from the market immediately," the statement said.

Copper Cane has denied it mislabeled its wines, saying it is certified to advertise where its grapes came from: Oregon.

Wine regions — known as American viticultural areas — are federally regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue valleys are all distinct and protected viticultural areas.

In February, Copper Cane received from the federal bureau a certification— known as appellation — to sell wines and label them as being from Oregon.

"We say Oregon," Jim Blumling, vice president of operations, told Salem Reporter in September. "All currently produced Copper Cane wines from Oregon bear the Oregon state appellation."

In the joint letter to John Manfreda, administrator of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Oregon's delegates said The Willametter Journal wine makes specific references to "The Willamette region of Oregon's coastal range" and hailing from the "Territory of Oregon." Retail cases of Elouan reference the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue valleys specifically.

"This has the appearance of willfully causing confusion as to the geographic origin of the wine and is a misuse of Oregon geographic terms," the letter said.

The letter echoes a similar call for an investigation. On Sept. 6, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission wrote a letter to the federal bureau asking for a field audit.

The OLCC's had also demanded production records from Copper Cane on Aug. 30. The agency has received the records and are currently reviewing them, according to an OLCC spokesman.

It remains unclear what actions the OLCC will take. The state agency has the authority to stop a wine's sale in Oregon, Director Steve Marks told Salem Reporter in September, but that will depend on the review.

Copper Cane already cut some ties to Oregon for this harvest season. In late September, the winery cancelled contracts for thousands of tons of grapes grown in southern Oregon. The winery said the grapes were tainted by smoke from wildfires that blazed in the Pacific Northwest over the summer.

Copper Cane and many of the vineyards in Oregon disagree about the amount of smoke that seeped into the grapes and whether it constituted a wholesale cancel of tons of grapes. Several Oregon wineries bought the grapes to try and create a "Solidarity Vintage."


Read at the Salem Reporter.