AVA Petition Process Put on Hold: Calistoga Wineries left out in Cold
Many wineries have built their reputation upon the AVA system. Having names like Oakville, Rutherford and Stags Leap on the bottle can increase sales drastically. This is why there has been ongoing debates about AVAs in California. Unfortunately for wineries in Calistoga, they are having problems with their AVA application.
The United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has announced that it is reviewing the AVA petition process and all pending requests will be stalled. There are currently hundreds of regions that are in the process of applying for AVA status including the Calistoga wine region in Napa Valley.
Based on correspondence between Representative Mike Thompson (St. Helena) and the TTB, it appears that the issue is the policy of grandfathering wine brands that use the same name as AVAs. This issue may have stemmed from the Tulocay/Coombsville AVA debate.
According to Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Kevin Fromer, “The ‘grandfathering’ approach in the regulations was intended to protect brand names that had existed prior to the development of the AVA program. This solution … was not forward-looking and, therefore, does not address conflicts between AVA and brand names that have come into existence after (July 1986).”
Fromer further stated that, “The complexities of these issues have led us to suspend action approval and other similar petitions while we consider revising the existing regulatory approach.”
In the bid to create the Calistoga AVA, two wineries named Calistoga Estates and Calistoga Cellars have objected. Neither use the 85% of Calistoga grown grapes that would be required to continue to label their wines based on the brands they have created.
Representative Mike Thompson, long an advocate of the Napa Valley wine industry, is not happy with the TTB’s decision to suspend the AVA petition process. In a strongly worded letter to the TTB, Thompson states, “Your proposed suspension of existing rules related to AVAs, including halting all processing of petitions for AVAs within AVAs, will create chaos in the wine industry and may deprive many wineries and pending petitions of their rights under your current regulations.”
This is bad news for the wineries in Calistoga, as their application for AVA approval is probably not going to be approved any time soon. They can still label their wines under Napa Valley, but cannot specify Calistoga as an AVA. We’ll keep you updated as this situation develops.