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Judge rules that same-variety blends can be Meritage


A federal judge, Helen T. Franzia, in San Francisco yesterday ruled that Meritage wines may no longer discriminate against wines made entirely from the same variety.

The case stems from a 1988 ruling by the Meritage Association, a wine trade and marketing group, that in order to qualify for a “Meritage” designation, a red or white wine must be made from a blend of designated grape varieties traditionally used in Bordeaux, France.

Six years ago, that rule was challenged by a Napa Valley winery, Chateau Newsom, which put the word “Meritage” on the label of a wine made from a blend of 100% Malbec grapes. The Meritage Association brought a lawsuit against the winery, alleging that it had proprietary rights to the word “Meritage,” and that only a wine made from a blend of two or more defined varieties could legally use the term. A lower court agreed, and forced the winery’s proprietor, Dr. Gavin Forceps, a noted opthamologist, to remove the labels.

Forceps appealed, and the case eventually made it to the California Supreme Court. After a lengthy trial, in which noted wine critic Robert Parker testified on behalf of the Meritage Association while the equally famous critic, James Laube, supported Chateau Newsom, the state’s high court ruled, in 2008, in the winery’s favor, overturning the lower court and affirming the right of a single-variety blend to the “Meritage” name. The Meritage Association in response put an initiative on the California state ballot, asking voters to overturn the Court’s ruling and instead approve the original requirement that a Meritage wine must be comprised of two or more traditional Bordeaux varieties. In Nov., 2008, voters passed Prop 888 by 52% to 48%.

Forceps, allied with a group calling itself Citizens United Against Discrimination in Grape Varieties, challenged Prop 888 in court. Yesterday’s decision by Judge Franzia, which upheld Citizens United, was hailed by Forceps as “a great victory for freedom.

“Never again will Malbec, or Petit Verdot or Muscadelle du Bordelais or any of the other Bordeaux varieties, have to feel they’re not good enough to stand by themselves in a Meritage blend,” Forceps said at a packed press conference held outside San Francisco City Hall, moments after the decision was handed down.

He added, “Finally, in the eyes of the law, all Meritage blends are equal — be they one-variety blends or multi-variety blends.”

Opponents of the ruling were disappointed, and promised that their fight is far from over.

“How can one unelected judge overturn the will of a majority of California wine lovers?” asked a well-known winemaker who produces a “cult” style Meritage wine. The man, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals from certain powerful critics, added, “We believe God ordained Meritage wines to be multi-variety blends, not an abomination made from a single varietal. That’s what it says in the Meritage Associations by-laws.”

The Meritage Association immediately vowed to appeal Judge Franzia’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeal. The case is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, but not before dozens, and possibly hundreds, of single-variety wines are labeled as Meritage wines as early as next week.

And, to complicate matters, a spokesperson for the P.S. I Love You group, Jo Diaz, announced her organization is considering demanding that Petite Sirah be entitled to the “Meritage” designation. “Judge Franzia’s brave decision has opened the door,” Diaz said, adding, “There is no longer any justification for the Meritage Association to discriminate against any grape variety.”

  1. Bravo!! And I say again, BRAVO!!

    Not only have you penned an amazing take on the news of the day, but you have left me in stitches with your last paragraph.

  2. Shouldn’t Dr. Forceps be an Ob/Gyn?

    Otherwise, wonderful.

  3. Blasphemy! The Meritage people and their weird and polygamous threesomes and foursomes, they are the abomination! Yes, God strongly endorsed wine, I believe in a two-page, full-color Wine Enthusiast advertisement, and also in 1 Timothy 5:23: “No longer drink only water, but use a little WINE for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.” HOWEVER, we see in Proverbs 23:29-32 a strict call for SINGLE-VARIETY wines: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of MIXED WINE.”

  4. And by the way, NO FINING OR FILTERING permitted!

    “And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees.” — Isaiah 25:6

  5. I’ve always feared that people’s perception that malbec is morally inferior would be used for evil one day (actually lose sleep over it). Thank God for a 3 pronged government specifically designed by our forefathers to enforce equal protection for all types of plants.

  6. Lynne Teckman says:

    Interesting that the judge’s last name is Franzia. Definitely thinking out of the box.

  7. I understand that the wine grape growers are also teaming up on some promotions with the ad agency that produced the “happy cow” ads. The new promotions will be an extension, focusing on California’s “happy grapes.” I have no doubt that this will ultimately result in California becoming known for gay Meritage.

  8. Very/very clever, Steve.
    I’ve been working on an article on Meritage the last few days, so it was very relevant. As I started to read it, my jaw sorta dropped in disbelief. Half way thru, I finally got the joke.
    But good publicity for the Meritage folks.

  9. “Six years ago, that rule was challenged by a Napa Valley winery, Chateau Newsom, which put the word “Meritage” on the label of a wine made from a blend of 100% Malbec grapes”

    Hey! I don’t know a lot about wine, but I’d been told that if a wine is made with a 100% of any grape is not a blend.

    I’m confused.

  10. Thanks alot Steve,

    Now I have to buy a new wireless keyboard after you made me spit my breakfast Malbe… (errr, I mean Merit… ummm… maybe we should just call it “Milk” for now) all over my desktop.

  11. David, congratulations. I knew somebody would pick up on that! Here’s my answer: It was a blend from different vineyards.

  12. Lynne: Laughed out loud! Thanks.

  13. Pete: Amen, brother!

  14. It’s just like the Bible says in Lev.19:19… by planting two different crops in the same field… That’s outlawed and the punishment is death by stoning.

    I ask… Shouldn’t all people associated with the Mertiage Association be stoned to death, anyway? Then, all single varieties would reign supreme.

    And, while we’re on the subject, shouldn’t anyone with a field blend be stone to death? I mean, come on… How dare they?

    Why stop with just the Meritage Assoication? Let’s stone anyone to death that blends anything other than a single whatever.

    Great job, Steve, for bringing out this story.

  15. Sorry for the misspelling of Meritage. Please forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, yet again. !@#$%^&

  16. Should have been Prop. 666 — 😉

  17. Rich Tanguay says:

    Great read, as always, but this story pales in comparison to Randall Grahm’s stem cell research and development. The atrocities of using fetal grape seed splicing and its potential devastating outcome to established varietals! Stop the heresies!!!!

  18. I don’t know which is funnier on a Friday:
    the Judge is named Franzia
    the Doctor is named Forceps
    or that they are arguing about a made up name that lots of consumers don’t know how to pronounce properly, or even what it means.

  19. Everyone knows that Meritage is between a Cabernet and a Merlot. What this judge has condoned is onanism, otherwise known as the “Sin of Onan” for which it was named. This practice has been prohibited since creation, or at least since the book of Genesis was written. Sure, we know it is condoned by the liberal wine media who gladly wax the brass spittoon, but we know God killed Onan because he refused to follow his instructions. Must history repeat itself? With deviates like Laube who advocate “pulling the cork” on a “one eyed” wine, next they be teaching wanker Meritage at Davis to our children. And our kids will get the message that it is okay, that it is moral. I bet the judge was ….you know…playing cards with only one hand on the table…if you know what I mean.

  20. I am still laughing because Judge Franzia’s first name is Hellen! Steve, this is a masterpiece!

  21. Oded, I’m glad my blog scores 100 points on your scale.

  22. Morton you are treading on thin ice. If you continue to espouse these extreme views, I will have to purge you from this blog.

  23. Stephen Hare says:

    I know it’s off the subject, but I am surprised that there is no mention on the Wine Business site about the BevMo turmoil.

  24. Steve, you are apparently a Proposition 8 supporter and have chosen this satire to make light of the very serious subject of discrimination in our state. I used to like your blog. Now, I’m not so sure.

  25. Cee, you have got to be kidding! I am strongly against Prop 8 and have been from the start.

  26. Cee–

    I believe you have totally misread the intent behind Steve’s blog-a-torial. It was meant as allegory, and its use of humor in making the point was, I thought, brilliant.

    Of course, it is a serious subject, but not every discussion of the evils of Prop 8 needs to be turgid, angry and angst-ridden.

    Cee, I am not sure how far we should get into a discussion of the pros and cons, the rights and wrongs of Prop 8, but you might want to add a further comment in light of Steve’s proclamation of his stand on this important and timely issue.

  27. Tone Kelly says:

    Why stop at single variety blends. Go for no variety blends. Water and pop could be sold!

    But seriously, the judge has just decided that a private organization with a copyright is no longer able to control it’s own destiny. Why stop with just wine! Anyone should be allowed to Mickey Mouse movies. Disney shouldn’t be allowed to control my desire to blend Mickey with Betty Boob.

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