Contested Calistoga AVA Approved

Federal agency OKs vineyard district in Napa Valley after five years

by Jim Gordon
Calistoga AVA
Calistoga AVA boundaries

The Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the federal government has approved the long-delayed and contested Calistoga American Viticultural Area (AVA), filling an obvious gap in the chain of Napa Valley sub-AVAs that runs from Napa County's southern border through the mid-valley but stops before reaching Calistoga, an historic town with a long winemaking tradition and surrounding vineyards.

The TTB filed its final rule on the matter Wednesday, ending five years of debate between supporting wineries and the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) organization on one side and two objecting wineries with “Calistoga” in their brand names on the other. These two producers, using the names Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estate, argued that the AVA effectively would ban them from continuing to use their brand names, since by law wineries cannot use AVA names on their labels unless 85% of wines so labeled was made from grapes grown within the AVA. Both wineries had been using a majority of grapes grown elsewhere in their wines.

Proponents of the AVA, including the vintners group, argued that the two wineries were “road-blocking vintners and growers by opposing the recognition so that they could continue to mis-describe the wines they produced -- branding them as from Calistoga when they were not,” NVV communications director Terry Hall said in a news release.

For their part, the two wineries supported compromise proposals by the TTB in late 2007. One would have allowed established wineries to continue using “Calistoga” in their brand names, although they do not source the required 85% of their grapes within the proposed Calistoga AVA. Another sought to alter regulatory standards for the establishment of AVAs within AVAs.

“Had this rule-making gone forward, this would have established precedent favoring those who mislead consumers about place of origin while trading on the hard work and quality reputation of these long-time growers and vintners from Calistoga,” Hall stated.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson’s office and the Napa Valley Vintners both issued congratulatory press releases today. Thompson, whose district includes Napa Valley, was instrumental in gaining the long-awaited approval, said Linda Reiff, executive director of the vintners group.

The effective date of the new AVA will be Jan. 7, 2010. The TTB offers further information through Amy Greenberg, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street  NW, Washington, DC 20220; 202 (453–2265).


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