Precious little veritas in this vino

Oregon vineyards and wineries have labored for years in the shadow of the much larger and better-known California wine industry. Now federal regulators have ruled that a Napa Valley vintner can no longer use an Oregon label on his California-made wines. That’s a victory for Oregon’s growing and increasingly respected wine industry.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a part of the federal Treasury Department, ruled last week that Joe Wagner, owner of Elouan Winery and Copper Cane Wines and Provisions, must surrender nine wine labels, including Elouan and The Willametter Journal.

The unsuspecting wine consumer could be forgiven for being taken in by the label on The Willametter Journal, which says in part, “This Pinot Noir was cultivated and crafted to honor the unique area where it was grown. The Willamette region of Oregon’s coastal range is a place credited over decades for its vibrant and fresh style.”

But despite the flowery prose, The Willametter Journal is not an Oregon wine.

The grapes come from Oregon, but Wagner explained in an interview published Nov. 1 that the grapes were layered with dry ice and trucked to Rutherford, California, where the wine was made.

Wagner said his company changed the labels on his wine after regulators told him he couldn’t claim an Oregon appellation such as Willamette Valley, a federally recognized American Viticultural Area. But other wines, such as Elouan pinot noir, continued to be sold with Oregon on the label. The popular wine app for smartphones, Vivino, lists Elouan No. 23 among the top 25 “Oregon Pinot Noir wines” as ranked by Vivino users. So apparently the wine is good, but it’s not made in Oregon.

Unfortunately for Wagner, Oregon law says all wine labeled as Oregon wine must be made in the state, not just grown here. State Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, brought the matter to the attention of the Legislature in September, showing colleagues a case of Elouan wine labeled as “Oregon Coast” Pinot Noir — not a recognized AVA and where no pinot noir grapes are grown — and listing the Willamette, Rogue and Umpqua valleys, which are real AVAs, underneath that heading.

Let the buyer beware — and let Wagner’s company learn some geography.

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