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That new conjunctive labeling law in Sonoma

66 comments

Back in December, 2009, I blogged on “the Sonoma County label war,” a proposal by the Sonoma County Vintners by which every bottle of wine produced in the county would have to bear the words “Sonoma County” on the label. That meant, if the wine came from Russian River Valley, it would have to say “Russian River Valley – Sonoma County.” Ditto for all of Sonoma’s other 12 AVAs.

I expressed some doubt at the time whether this was really the best thing the county could do to promote itself. It seemed like a too little, too late approach to make up for the diluted Sonoma County reputation the county caused by creating so many appellations in the 1980s.

Over the weekend, the California Legislature unanimously approved a bill that essentially enacts the Sonoma County Vintners concept, dubbed “conjunctive labeling,” into law. Since there’s no reason to think Gov. Schwarzenegger won’t sign it, the new law will likely go into effect, although not for another three years.

Three other California wine regions have conjunctive labeling laws: Napa Valley, Lodi and Paso Robles.

I asked my Facebook friends, many of whom are California winemakers, what they think of this law, and the response was pretty negative. I can’t explain that; I simply report. A few examples:

“Capture winery is totally opposed.” — Tara Sharp

“My label is Dane Cellars and I oppose it also.” — Bart Hansen

“Horrible law.” — David Grega

“Dumb, dumb and dumber. I have withdrawn from the Vintners in protest and won’t participate in any of their marketing efforts.” — John M. Kelly

“…we are also considering withdrawing.  Most upsetting: we’ve voiced our concerns to the Sonoma County Vintners in a detailed, thoughtful way and they’ve completely ignored our points.” — Tara Sharp

“F’n ridiculous, moronic, and other words not fit to type.” — Hardy Wallace

“It’s a bad idea, and it sets a bad precedent for other large geographical AVAs to ram the same sort of requirement through their state legislatures.” — Randy Hall

“it’s silly” — Mark Clarin

Although to be fair, there were a few defenders:

“I think its great personally, strength via solidarity, and seems plenty of industry concurred; just b/c SVVGA didn’t follow your concerns doesn’t mean they weren’t listening.” — William Allen

“Is the Napa law ridiculous too? What about Paso Robles? How about Lodi? The one thing Sonoma County (wineries) ALWAYS gets criticized for is that they can’t come together for a common good… and a lot of the comments above illustrate that point exactly.” — Kelly Keagy

  1. Quick question:

    Would the term “Screw you, Sonoma County Vintners & Legislators!” printed on the back label be compliant?

    :)

  2. Great idea, Joe! I’ll run it by my compliance person ;-).

    On Facebook I was just reminded how hard the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau pushed to get this legislation passed. Made me throw up in my mouth a little.

    I’d like to point out a couple of fairly obvious points. One: “Napa Valley” had strong brand identity before it was added as a conjunctive requirement; the growers in Pope and Wooden Valleys could not have had a bigger gift handed to them. Two: “Lodi” and to a lesser extent “Paso Robles” may be a bit vague and nebulous but at least one could make an argument that they could apply to an actual viticultural area.

    No such argument can be made for “Sonoma County” – we have so many discrete AVAs here because there really are very different growing conditions across the County. “Sonoma County” has no brand identity and this legislation won’t give it any. Sonoma County is, in the final analysis, nothing more than a political unit – not an AVA and not a marketable brand.

  3. Take a small producer selling 90% of their production direct to consumer and explain how the incurred costs and label changing will benefit them.

    This was tough. I have a lot of people who I love that were pushing this. In theory it makes sense, but in process it is tough.

    I’d be happy to put Sonoma County on any new label. I love it here, I want people to come, and I want more recognition for this place.

  4. Bill Smart says:

    Napa keeps kicking our ass marketing wise and we all sit around wondering why? Now we know. None of us can get on the same page about how to properly take our message to market. Does anyone really believe people from the midwest (or anywhere else outside of wine country) know where the Dry Creek Valley, RRV or Alexander Valley’s are on a wine map? I can tell you they do NOT! We, meaning all of us in the wine industry, are all way to close to this issue. Take a step back for a moment and ask any consumer if they know where our regions are. I’ve done it countless times. I can assure you 9 times out of 10, they don’t. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just we assume they know more than they do.

    The next time you have someone on a cell phone, standing outside of your tasting room saying they are in “Napa” when they are in the Dry Creek Valley, you’ll understand why this legislation is so important. Way to go Honore!

  5. The argument about cost is thin. It isn’t going to cost a lot of money to add two words to your existing label design. It’s not like anyone has to re-label existing product because you’ll have four years to work it into your program. Let’s face it… if you aren’t running labels in that time frame you have a bigger problem than conjunctive labeling.

    I agree with Bill. I’ve been a part of the Sonoma County wine industry for the last 20 years. One of the things I love most about this beautiful place (that is my home) is that it is a diverse group of individuals and there’s nothing cookie cutter about it. If you’ve ever been on a committee within the SCVA you know that its like herding cats. I applaud the efforts of the SCVA and the SCWC in taking this step to bring recognition to the county as a whole. Which will benefit everybody in the end.

  6. Kelly-

    If your juice is all over supermarket shelves- putting SoCo on a label may help you and the area. But if you are small and direct to consumer, how does this benefit?

  7. Bill Smart says:

    Hardy – rising tides raise all ships. This WILL benefit them in the long run. This is about impressions. You’re a media savvy guy – this about getting the name Sonoma County in front of as many people as we can. Once folks associate just exactly where Sonoma County is, that’s when we can share our stories of diverisity and distinctiveness among the appellations and producers.

    Right now I say Dry Creek Valley and most folks, god love em, say Huh?

  8. It seems to me that a greater recognition of the county and the sub-appellations within the county would help the consumer shop with greater knowledge and therefore confidence. What difference does it make where they purchase? A consumer could be standing in your tasting room in a remote part of Russian River Valley and still think they’re in Napa. The real question is… how could it hurt?

  9. P.S. Greater recognition could lead to more tourism. More tourism will lead to more sales out of those remote tasting rooms.

  10. The question of who benefits is not limited to producers. Labelling laws are also suppose to serve the consumer, and it is hard to argue that adding SoCo to any label with an AVA designation hurts producers to any degree beyond the modest cost of changing the type on their labels. It is not as if those labels have to be completely redrawn in most cases.

    It is a bother to be sure, and it benefits bigger wineries more than smaller wineries (probably), but its costs are, as KelK points out, not high.

    What is the impact on consumers? It ranges from none to a little. Some folks will like knowing that the Dry Creek Valley is in the same country as the Sonoma Valley and Knights Valley. Others won’t care or even notice. But, as their is some benefit to consumers, some benefit to honest vintners like Dry Creek Vineyards and very little cost to small producers, it is hard to see the harm.

    And I would ask this question of the thoughtful Mr. Kelly. Why is Sonoma County not a marketable brand? I do not think of Sonoma as an artifice of unrelated fiefdoms but as a continuum from Carneros to Cloverdale. It is separate and apart and its lifeline is Hwy 101 with significant arteries east and west. I think it can be marketed if the parties agree on fair ways to treat its many unique places. After all, France is marketed, Tuscany is marketed. Etc.

  11. Where’s the research that says what people do or don’t know about Sonoma Country and its sub-AVAs? Not anecdotes . . . research. Isn’t that what a marketing organization is supposed to provide? So that it can focus on the things that make a difference? Has anyone seen anything conducted against consumers both in state and out?

  12. Charlie, I think this is one of those things, like politics, where people agree to disagree, and neither side will ever convince the other they’re right.

  13. Kelly, my guess is that SoCo gets plenty of tourism publicity — everything from AAA’s magazine to Sunset, the wine magazines and all those airline zines we read while flying. SoCo probably has a better “in general” tourism reputation that Napa (and deserves it, too!). The only thing SoCo lags in reputation is wine. And I don’t think there’s much to be done about that. When tourists think “wine” they think “Napa Valley.” For better or worse, that’s the way it is and is going to be for a long time.

  14. My last comment… I promise.

    Fred: The SCVA and the SWGC did an extensive study on this subject. Which was shared with winery representatives and grape growers of the county on numerous occasions.

    Steve: The fact that most people think Napa when they think of wine country (just like they think Los Angeles when you mention California) is the long and the short of the problem. Conjunctive labeling may not solve the whole problem, but I think its a good start.

  15. Actually, to my knowledge, consumer studies were done, as well as trade research, and more importantly, the research was made public not just by the Sonoma County Vintners, but by the smaller AVA groups in the County as well. Also of key interest, is that the wine trade respondents (who were sommeliers and retailers) clearly and strongly support conjunctive labeling and in the research made it clear that it will help them sell more wine.

  16. Legislation doesn’t bestow brand identity, good marketing does. This is a tool for that, in my opinion, and it can work with enough people willing to give it the energy it requires to pull the naysayers and complainers along with them to some higher level of success (however measured) than exists today. I say give it a go.

  17. Kelly, I guess it can’t hurt! But why do you think some vintners are against it?

  18. Steve, who likes being told what to do?

  19. Hey, Kelkeagy. most people think of San Francisco when they think of California. :-}

  20. Steve: I’m guessing Robert hit the nail on the head.

  21. Robert, sometimes I do!

  22. My two cents, from someone with years in both the wholesale and retail portions of wine sales — 85% of the general wine consumers have little recognition of wine areas smaller than regional delineations. All of them will recognize California, most would at least recognize the name “Napa” as being a good wine producing area but once you get into the finer delineations — well, you start losing their interest.

    For the rare consumer who shows some interest in knowing more, then you have a teaching opportunity. The conjunctive labeling can’t really hurt (as was noted above, you’ll be making some label changes in the next 3 years, so it won’t cost *that* much to add the words “Sonoma County”) and will give the sales person a hook to educate the consumer; maybe start them on the road to becoming a wine enthusiast (lower case — no ass-kissing intended!;).

    Having recently relocated to southern Oregon, I see the same problem here in a lack of regional identity. Most wine consumers will recognize Oregon as a fine wine producing region; maybe some will have even heard of Willamette (probably won’t have the correct pronunciation; another teaching moment).

    If they know anything further, it’s that Oregon produces pinot noir and that it comes from the northern part of the state. The vast majority of wine consumers are unaware of the great wines being produced in the southern part of the state. The big challenge is to get some regional identity established and then get them hooked on experiencing the diversity of wines, grapes and styles being offered within that region. Right now, I’m willing to bet a case of nice southern Oregon wine that 90+% of the general American wine consumer doesn’t have a clue as to where the Rogue Valley is, let alone the fact that they are producing a wide variety of excellent wines.

    It still comes down to marketing on the macro scale and educating the customer (WHEN they are ready) on the micro scale.

  23. Bill Smart says:

    Sherman – excellent points. You’re experiences with consumers mirror mine exactly. We’ve got to bring them along and stop assuming they know as much as we do. Thanks for the great perspective.

  24. The issue, IMHO, is not whether “conjunctive labeling” is good or bad for vintners and consumers. The point is, every vintner should have the right to choose whether to adopt “conjunctive labeling” or not.

  25. Peter, you wrap up the core of it well, it seems.

  26. If putting “Sonoma County” on your label is good marketing and if it were a benefit to sales or price support, then it would be done by vintners already. And it is by some. And by many it is not. It’s an individual marketing decision.

    But the fact that “Sonoma County” is not appended to most AVA-specific wines tells me that being forced to do so is likely a detriment to these brands and wines.

    My other question is this: How do we measure the success of this new usurping of label real estate? What will be the metrics? What if in ten years in after it is in effect we don’t see a rise in grape prices for “Sonoma County” grown grapes that is greater than the average percentage rise in the state? What if we don’t see a percentage increase in the price of Sonoma County wines, regardless of their appellation, that is greater than the state average for that time frame?

    How do we measure this experiment in label theft?

    Finally, if anyone thinks that by putting “Sonoma County” on all wines made with Sonoma County grapes is going to somehow bring Sonoma County wines up to the prestige level of Napa Valley wines then they don’t understand the nature of the Napa Valley brand.

    First, Sonoma County Cab will never reach the price or prestige level of Napa Valley wine in my lifetime, and I’ve got a few years left on me. Second, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot already has a leg up on the same Napa Valley varietals, particularly at the $30 and up level. And I’ve got news for you, Napa will NEVER catch up with Russian River Valley or Sonoma Coast where Pinot and Chard is concerned…not as long as growers are getting $6,000, $8,000, $10,000 and more for a ton of Napa Valley Cab.

    Bottom line: This conjunctive labeling law is a blow to the idea of “terroir”, which the “Dry Creek Valley”, “Russian River Valley”, “Green Valley”, “Sonoma Valley”, “Bennett Valley”, “Alexander Valley” and every other Sonoma Sub-AVA is better able to demonstrate than “Sonoma County”. There is no such thing as a distinctive “Sonoma County” AVA. There can’t be. It’s is a political designation.

    If it were me, I’d demand that the Sonoma County Vintners Association pay for every cost associated with redesigning my label.

  27. If every winery is required to–

    Put its name on the label
    Put an appellation on the label
    Follow varietal content rules that are immensely complex
    Follow vintage content rules
    Put the alcohol content in approximate terms on the label
    Tell us whether they produced the wine or not through an arcane system of nomenclature
    Only use terms like Estate Bottled if they follow the rules

    Etc, etc, etc,

    Then telling wineries to do conjunctive labelling is the least of their problems. This is a piss-up in a teapot. Let’s go back to real issues like alcohol labelling within 1 to 1 1/2 percent and being able to hide it on the label sideways in tiny print. Or whether wineries should be able to bottle different lots of wine under one label so that the consumer has no way of knowing whether he or she is getting the same wine from bottle to bottle.

    These are issues that have a direct bearing on the real world. Conjunctive labelling is peanuts by comparison. In my humble opinion, of course.

  28. Who else loves Charlie? I respect and like Tom, too, but that Charlie dude is FUNNY. Love the way he puts things, even when they hurt… and sometimes they do.

    And, if we don’t do conjunctive labeling, we certainly won’t be able to measure anything. I agree with Tom here, though. I hope there will be something in this regard.

    Good conversation here. Thanks Steve.

  29. Really, shouldn’t our CA legislature be passing the budget right now? Hey, you in Sacarmento…Education! I had a brief moment of cognitive dissonance when I saw the smiling faces of those voting for the Sonoma County Conjunctive Labeling bill in the legislative press release. Doesn’t this bill seem to be legislation formed by committee, ie., ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee.’ Ah, the So, another day, another mandate facing small business in CA, or so opines this Progressive.

    There seem to be significant unresolved issues and points of orders being overlooked in this discussion, so lets focus on the signal, not the noise (right now thinking of George Sauders’ essay ‘The Braindead Megaphone’):

    To this observer the conjunctive labeling issue is being viewed through the prism of wines sold in the broad market through a three-tier partner. However small, family wineries marketing & sales efforts tend to be accomplished on a 1-on-1 basis, either in-person if the winery has a bricks & mortar location, or through other DTC or DTT programs such as ecommerce, wine clubs, mailing list sales and/or in-market winery direct to trade sales. So, wondering if will this new statute will have any effect on smaller operations. I just looked at a number of small but successful Sonoma County based labels such as Martinelli, Kosta Browne, Williams Selyem, Peay and Radio-Coteau, and, gosh didn’t see Sonoma County prominently mentioned on their front labels, unless the specific wine was sourced from multiple AVAs within Sonoma County. All seem to be successful in their DTC wine sales efforts, so why haven’t these very focused Sonoma County Wineries (or many others) utilized voluntary conjunctive labeling in the past, and how will doing so in 2014 help their marketability going forward? Oh, the survey… the survey – argumentum ad numerum.

  30. OK here’s my last comment – I promise ;-)

    First, for those of you pooh-poohing the cost, how about you give Colonna Farrell a call and ask them to quote you for a label design. I can’t afford them but they are a benchmark. Anybody who thinks we can just rearrange some type and make it work is pretty naive, IMHO. At the very least comments like that reveal a lack of knowledge about the principles of design, and about the amount of work that has gone into building a brand around a particular design.

    Second, IMO it is delusional to think conjunctive labeling is even a start toward achieving the brand identity of Napa. The reason the Napa brand has so much more traction than Sonoma is that the Napa Valley has a longer history of producing more and better wine from a smaller area than Sonoma. Forcing everyone to put “Sonoma County” on the label won’t change that. We are now making some fantastic wines from Sonoma’s AVAs – what is needed is just time.

    Third, the eminent Mr. Olken asks why I don’t think “Sonoma County” is a marketable brand. I should have chosen my words more carefully and explained better. IMO “Sonoma County” does not and never will have the brand value of the existing AVAs. Forcing us to put “Sonoma County” on our labels dilutes the value of all the work that has gone into marketing the existing AVAs. To suggest that there is anything that makes a wine uniquely “Sonoma County” flies in the face of all terroirist understanding of the diversity of these AVAs. This diversity is reflected in Ms. Keagy’s comment about herding cats. The overlap of my interests with those of growers in Cloverdale or Carneros is small.

    Fourth (and finally, ’cause I’m sure most of you are so over imagining the whiny nasal drone of my voice): Tom Wark is exactly right when he suggests that those who have found value in putting “Sonoma County” on the label are already doing it. And for those who have commented that nobody likes being told what to do – duh. I also don’t like being stolen from. This should have been voluntary from the start – a carrot instead of a stick. The Governor proclaims “California Wine Month” every year but the Legislature does not insist that I put “Annadel Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County, CALIFORNIA” in minimum 2mm type on my label.

    Burger King doesn’t have the brand value of McDonalds. Maybe they should get the Legislature to pass a law requiring every runner, race car, sporting arena, etc. in the State to display “Burger King” prominently somewhere.

  31. Bill Green says:

    Let’s not ignore the fact that the debate about being told what to do vs. deciding on your own is also a personal/political position. Many of those arguing against this law, I would guess, are against this sort of thing in general, so no matter how much evidence the other side can offer in support, it is academic.

    Anyone who has followed the annual Sonoma auction/showcase/whatever over time, it is quite clear that many Sonoma vintners don’t play well together. Certainly one of the appeals of Sonoma vs. Napa is that individualistic streak in Sonoma vintners.

    Yet at the same time if you venture out of California – and you’re not promoting a specific winery to a friendly audience of restaurants and distributors and club members – you are naive and out of touch, and missing an opportunity.

  32. OK I lied about shutting up! :-0

    Bill you would guess wrong in my instance. You might be surprised what sort of supposedly “socialist” policies I support politically. I get behind policies where I evaluate that the benefit to me is greater than the cost of the intrusion. IMO you and other supporters of this law have not made any sort of compelling case, regardless of what you think of the surveys.

    I don’t make enough wine to have to worry about maximizing every “opportunity” (and I have no recollection of asking for your opinion on what constitutes an “opportunity” for my brand BTW). And I wonder how “in touch” someone is who considers restaurants and distributors to be “friendly audiences” (will give you the wine club members though).

    Anyway Bill, what’s next? Is the SCVA going to sanction our winery for refusing to participate in the Wine Country Weekend? I’m so glad I still get to make my own decisions about SOME things!

  33. Bill Green says:

    John, you’ve mostly proved my point.

  34. Bill – easy to say. How, exactly?

  35. Bill Green says:

    The specifics of your response and previous comments are typical of why Sonoma has struggled with an image, in my view.

    I know a dozen Sonoma County winemakers who feel the same way you do, and yet most would also prefer to have more business, especially these days. I’m not saying this is a solution, I just think it’s time to challenge your thinking, rather than fight every notion of Sonoma unity with “what’s in it for me?”

    It doesn’t become law for more than 3 years, so surely you and Hardy and the others will need to tinker with your labels by then?

  36. Yes Bill, I am going to tinker with our labels. After 1/1/14 our bottlings will carry a “North Coast” appellation on the front label unless I can get a variance from the TTB to put “Sonoma County” on a security strip over the cork.

    And thanks but no thanks – we will get more business our own way, without putting the “County” designation on the label. In fact I am willing to bet big money that we don’t lose sales of bottle one by going to “North Coast.”

    What you can’t seem to accept is that “Sonoma County” has no image – in my view. The individual appellations do.

  37. Bill Green says:

    Well, I wish you luck John. Although it seems to me that North Coast has an even more vague image than Sonoma, so maybe there is some issue you have with Sonoma, but who knows. You must be selling all the wine you want to. I’ll have to check your website. Cheers.

  38. Nah Bill – I love Sonoma Valley. We have lived here since 1989 and wife and I hope to finish our days here. I have an awesome piece of ground up by Oakmont that I have temporary stewardship of – I hope the vineyard we planted outlives me and my children.

    Of course we’d like to be selling more wine in the current economy. But I won’t go so far as to accuse supporters of conjunctive labeling of exploiting people’s economic fears to push this misguided legislation. OK, maybe I will :-)

    But seriously. Thanks. We’ll be fine without the “County’s” help. As will many other small Sonoma producers.

  39. Daniel Moore says:

    Nice job by Sonoma County wine industry professionals playing politics! If group marketing was easy everyone would do it as well as Napa Valley. For years the Sonoma County Vintners Association highlighted a blue jeans and tri-tip image as a foil to Napa’s sophistication. Is it too cliche to say you reap what you sow.

  40. Wow Steve, you opened a can of worms here. Which is why we tune in regularly.

    I’d like to clarify some things about the reasoning for the conjunctive labeling initiative, based on the research behind it. As an independent party who helped design the research, I have some extra insight on this topic. I recognize that there are legal, aesthetic and philosophical objections to the conjunctive labeling law, but I can’t add much to that conversation.

    The Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Winegrape Commission invested in this research before proposing the conjunctive labeling law, and commissioned Wine Opinions to design and execute it. The purpose was to determine the effect of conjunctive labeling on consumer opinion of the wine so labeled, whether it harmed or improved said opinion and whether the result depended on the type of wine consumer or wine.

    The research was designed as a neutral three-celled quantitative test of the effect of Sonoma County vs. Sonoma County+AVA vs. AVA alone on a label, eliminating all other variables (price, label design, merchandising, marketing, salesmanship, ratings, etc.) The methodology used a web-based survey of the Wine Opinions panel, a 5000-person panel representative of the 18 million high frequency wine drinkers who purchase the majority of wines over $10 in the U.S. today. The sample size who completed the 3 celled test was 781, yielding a margin of error of 2.1-5.2% between cells at a 90% confidence interval. Anyone who wants further details on methodology can feel free to contact me.

    The consumers were exposed to a bland neutral label design with either Sonoma County, Sonoma County with an AVA or just the AVA alone. The varietal-AVA combinations tested were Pinot Noir+Russian River, Cabernet +Alexander Valley and Chardonnay+Bennett Valley. The results were clear – for a combination of lesser known AVA and variety (i.e. Chardonnay Bennett Valley) the quality and price perception were statistically superior for Sonoma County alone or Sonoma County+Bennett Valley over Bennett Valley alone. For established and prestigious combinations (i.e. Pinot Noir Russian River and Cabernet Alexander Valley), the quality and price perception were statistically superior for Sonoma County+AVA and AVA alone over Sonoma County alone. However, Sonoma County+AVA was equal to AVA alone in both those cases. This was true for regular purchasers of high end wines as well as the average respondent.

    Bear in mind the impact is not huge – the AVA/County designation only shifts the perception of 5-20% of the consumers depending on the variety-region combination.

    Now to respond to some specific postings:
    John Kelly Says: “Sonoma County has no brand identity and this legislation won’t give it any. Sonoma County is, in the final analysis, nothing more than a political unit – not an AVA and not a marketable brand.”

    The quantitative market research I (and others) have done contradicts this. Sonoma County has extremely high unaided recall levels among core wine drinkers. While Sonoma as a designation does not quite have the quality ratings that Napa does, its ratings among core wine drinkers are comparable with Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo and other prestigious appellations. And it rates higher than Napa for value.

    Hardy Says: “Take a small producer selling 90% of their production direct to consumer and explain how the incurred costs and label changing will benefit them.”

    If every bottle is hand-sold in the tasting room or via a mailing list, it probably won’t make much difference. But conjunctive labeling will modestly but significantly improve likelihood of purchase in retail stores or restaurant wine lists when the AVA is not well known, not well known for that particular variety, or exposed to less knowledgeable consumers.

    Charlie Olken Says: “ But, as there is some benefit to consumers, some benefit to honest vintners like Dry Creek Vineyards and very little cost to small producers, it is hard to see the harm.”
    For me, that was indeed the main finding – there’s practically no downside and in some situations significant upside.

    Tom Wark Says: “If putting Sonoma County on your label is good marketing and if it were a benefit to sales or price support, then it would be done by vintners already… the fact that Sonoma County is not appended to most AVA-specific wines tells me that being forced to do so is likely a detriment to these brands and wines. “

    Are producers in the wine market really that efficient? This reminds me of the old saw about two economists walking down the street, who see a $20 bill lying on the pavement. “Oh look, a $20 bill” says one. “Humph” says the other; “if it was really there, someone would have picked it up already.”

    John Kelly Says: “Forcing us to put Sonoma County on our labels dilutes the value of all the work that has gone into marketing the existing AVAs.”

    This was a concern of the SCV and SCWC and precisely one of the hypotheses that the research was designed to test. The results were clear –there is no dilution.

  41. One somewhat practical point not brought up in this back and forth is that Sonoma County has AVAs with the word “Sonoma” in them (while Napa doesn’t). For these AVAs I see there being more potential confusion. Specifically, at Siduri we produce both a Sonoma County Pinot Noir (a blend of fruit from Sonoma Mountain, RRV, and Sonoma Coast) and a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (just Sonoma Coast fruit). Our Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is now going to have to be labeled “Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County” while our Sonoma County Pinot will just be labeled “Sonoma County.”

    The same thing will apply to folks making Sonoma Mountain or Sonoma Valley wines.

    That will be, IMHO, quite confusing.

    I wish that had been addressed.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines & Novy Family Winery

  42. Good point, Adam, and I would hasten to add that the confusion already exists. Asking the average punter to remember the difference between Sonona Coast designations and Sonoma County already seems confusing enough, and one which I am surprised that winemakers allow to happen.

    Of course, part of the problem is that Sonoma Coast is a meaningless AVA. What part of Sonoma Coast do the grapes come from? Arnold Drive, Petaluma Gap, Freestone, etc?

    I guess it can be argued that more confusion is no help, but with the AVAs in Sonoma already confusing–is RRV from Green Valley, Westside Road or Chalk Hill? Do we really need a Green Valley of RRV AVA–it is hard for me to see how this issue is worth fighting over when there are bigger fish to fry.

  43. I wonder if Green Valley of the Russian River Valley will now have to be Green Valley of the Russian River Valley – Sonoma County. Wineries are going to need bigger labels.

  44. Adam said: “Sonoma County has AVAs with the word “Sonoma” in them (while Napa doesn’t). For these AVAs I see there being more potential confusion.”

    This issue was covered in the research, although not as part of the 3-celled label test. As you surmised, it’s a bit more complicated. Appoximately 1/4 of the consumers were confused by the presence of two Sonomas, 1/5 thought it was a blend of Sonoma County + an AVA, 42% thought it was from an AVA within Sonoma County. You can contact me or the SCV for the details.

  45. Christian,

    As I read your response it seems to me that 25% were confused and another 20% were wrong. That’s more than the 42% that were correct.

    Am I missing something?

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  46. Thanks for the information Christian. Any reason that the effect of adding just “Sonoma” to the label and comparing to adding “Sonoma County” was not explored? Rhetorical question – I don’t expect an answer.

    Your research shows that – at best – there is no benefit to me of adding “Sonoma County” to my label, and at worst that 45% were confused by the duplication. Thanks for that bit of information. Please have it ready when our attorneys call you for a deposition.

  47. Anybody who wants to can already put Sonoma on the label. Nothing stops them from doing it. And given the wide variety of types of wines and temperature zones, driving from cold clime Pinot noir all the way to raisin Zone 4 Zins, there is no cohesive mental ID to gain from all being forced to tag Sonoma to the label. But some Californians love govt. answers and love Leninist (oooops) arguments on why YOU have to do what I, the SUPREME KNOWLEDGE, say.

  48. “Tom Wark Says: “If putting Sonoma County on your label is good marketing and if it were a benefit to sales or price support, then it would be done by vintners already… the fact that Sonoma County is not appended to most AVA-specific wines tells me that being forced to do so is likely a detriment to these brands and wines. “

    Are producers in the wine market really that efficient? This reminds me of the old saw about two economists walking down the street, who see a $20 bill lying on the pavement. “Oh look, a $20 bill” says one. “Humph” says the other; “if it was really there, someone would have picked it up already.”

    ———-
    Vintners and their marketers are pretty smart and I’m not sure you want to disparage them by comparing them to economists : )

    Vintners take great care to put the information on their labels that they believe will best help sell their wine. If they don’t put “Sonoma County” on their labels (which they could if they desired), it’s likely because they don’t think it helps them.

  49. John Kelly Says: “Any reason that the effect of adding just “Sonoma” to the label and comparing to adding “Sonoma County” was not explored? Rhetorical question …”

    No, it’s a good question. First, we wanted as clean a test as possible of conjunctive labeling, without the additional variable of Sonoma being in the AVA name. That required 3 cells of roughly 250 respondents each. Then there’s the issue of whether findings for Sonoma Coast can be applied to Sonoma Mountain or Sonoma Valley and vice versa. Other research has shown there is some variation in perception and understanding of these AVAS. So to do a controlled multi-cell test of the Sonoma-in-the-AVA issue would have required a huge increase in the research budget and sample size. We settled for a basic question with some variations in variety and AVA.

    Adam Lee/Siduri & Novy Wines Says: “…it seems to me that 25% were confused and another 20% were wrong. That’s more than the 42% that were correct. Am I missing something?”

    Yes. The actual question was a series of statements about Sonoma County and AVAs with Sonoma in the name, for example “I believe that Sonoma Coast is a designated growing region within Sonoma County.” The respondents could agree with as many or few as they chose, so the % you cite are not mutually exclusive. Finally, respondents were exposed to either Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley Merlot or Sonoma Mountain Cabernet in the question preamble. So it’s difficult to generalize. As it happens, 21% of those who admitted they were “confused” about Sonoma County/Sonoma Coast also believed that Sonoma Coast is a “designated growing area” within Sonoma County. 21% of those believed Sonoma County/Sonoma Coast indicated they were a blend of the two also checked off that they were confused. So there is overlap.

    John Kelly Says: “Your research shows that – at best – there is no benefit to me of adding “Sonoma County” to my label, and at worst that 45% were confused by the duplication. Thanks for that bit of information. Please have it ready when our attorneys call you for a deposition.”

    If by “benefit” you mean increased quality perception or likelihood of purchase, the question on Sonoma-in-the-AVA does not show that, only that ¼ are “confused as to the origin of” such a wine. The multi-cell test results suggest that depending on the AVA and variety, in some cases Sonoma County alone brings greater “benefit” than AVA alone, in some cases the reverse, but that AVA+County is always at least tied for first in this regard. But to prove it, you’d want to do a controlled test on your particular AVA and variety, with specific measures of purchase intent, quality rating, etc.

    Tom Wark Says: “If putting Sonoma County on your label is good marketing and if it were a benefit to sales or price support, then it would be done by vintners already… the fact that Sonoma County is not appended to most AVA-specific wines tells me that being forced to do so is likely a detriment to these brands and wines.”

    OK, I was being a bit flippant (plus I love that joke about economists). But I wanted to point out that the fact that many vintners don’t use conjunctive labeling is not post-hoc proof that it is not a good idea. As we have found out painfully in the past two years, the mere existence of many independent actors is not proof of an efficient market.

    John and Charmion – talk of lawyers, depositions and Leninism is not helpful to a fact-based discussion of this issue. Again, the market research has no bearing on legal or philosophical objections to this law.

  50. Bill Smart says:

    And here I go again, flogging that dead horse. I thought you all might get a chuckle out of this recent email that flowed across my desk. I’ve removed the name(s) and such so as not to offend anyone. But the basic point is made. Remember, they SELL our wines.

    “We are traveling to Napa Valley over the Labor Day weekend and wondered if your vineyards will be open Saturday and Sunday to allow for industry tastings? Our wine store offers your wines for sale in Independence, Missouri. We purchase through our distributor XXXXXXX.”

    Thank you,
    “Wine Store” Owners

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