The Calistoga AVA war heats up again
In what’s turning into the longest-running farce in U.S. appellation annals, the Calistoga contretemps is back again in the headlines.
Just to bring you up to date on the plot, we first heard, back in 2003, that local vintners wanted the then-Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms bureau (now the Tax & Trade Bureau) to approve a Calistoga American Viticultural Area designation (AVA). In September, 2006, Chateau Montelena formally applied for approval. At that time, Montelena’s owner told me the Bureau told him the proposal was “the least controversial one they’ve ever done.” Well, that was a setup line if ever there was one, for a year later the Calistoga AVA had been effectively sidelined. Two wineries, Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estate Vineyards, both challenged it, saying it would harm their businesses, if approved, because they would have to change their names, since neither sources at least 85% of their grapes from the Calistoga area.
A risk-adverse TTB thus shelved the proposal, with spokesman Art Resnick explaining, “TTB needs to take a second look at this.” (For a good summary of the situation as of last year, see this link to the Napa Valley Register.)
Well, now Calistoga III: The Curse of the Compromise is playing in a theatre near you. Seems TTB worked out a tentative deal whereby the two wineries with “Calistoga” in their names will be grandfathered in, allowing them to keep their names going forward. But wait! There’s more. No sooner was the compromise revealed than the two Congressmen who head up California’s wine caucus, George Radanovich (R-Mariposa) and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) came out forcefully against it.
“We have very serious concerns that (the compromise)… could do lasting harm to the growing American wine industry,” they wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. On the other hand, the powerful chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), came out in support of the compromise (leading some reporters to note that Harkin had gone to school with one of the wineries’ co-owners).
I don’t see what the fuss is. Go ahead and approve the Calistoga AVA, and let the two wineries keep their names. It’s not a big deal. Appellation names are overblown anyway. Radanovich and Thompson are engaging in a little hyperbole when they say the future of the wine industry is at stake.
So let the compromise march forward. But in return, let TTB state, once and for all and on the record, that this is the last time they’ll let a geographic abomination like Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estate Vineyards slip through. No more name games. TTB has got to develop a spine.