With the turn of the calendar and after nearly a year of political wrangling, conjunctive labeling will be the norm for Sonoma County wineries beginning in 2014. Passed by unanimous vote in both the state assembly and senate in August and signed by Governor Schwartzenegger at the end of September, AB 1798 will require wineries using the name of any of the 13 recognized American Viticulture Areas (AVA) within Sonoma County on their labels to include “Sonoma County” as well. The bill is not retroactive as it applies only to wines bottled after January 1, 2014. Failure to comply is considered a misdemeanor and subjects the violator to possible revocation of their ABC license. To achieve compliance, it will be necessary to file for and receive a new Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) from the TTB for those labels already approved.
Response to the new requirements has been mixed. Pushed heavily by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and the Sonoma County Vintners, Nick Frey, the Commission’s president, stated, “In this increasingly competitive wine market, building awareness for Sonoma County and the wine regions within the county is critical to Sonoma County grape growers and the wineries they supply. AB 1798 will ensure that consumers recognize every bottle of wine produced from Sonoma County grapes.” However, several large, well-known wine producers in the region see the legislation as diluting their already well-established brands, in addition to the added cost and confusion of including “Sonoma County” on an often already crowded label.
Some of the better known of Sonoma’s AVAs are the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Dry Creek Valley. California requires conjunctive labeling for three other viticulture areas: Napa Valley, Lodi, and Paso Robles.