SALEM, Ore. — A coalition of Oregon lawmakers sent a letter requesting the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau investigate a California winery for misrepresenting California-made wines as Oregon ones.
Oregon's U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader signed the letter addressed to administrator John Manfreda.
In their letter, they contend specific wines from Rutherford-based Copper Cane Wines & Provisions misled consumers with product descriptions and packaging that imply the wines are produced in Oregon, trading on the names of federally-recognized American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs.
"As you know, the federal government regulates the creation and use of AVAs which establish boundaries for wine regions. It appears that Copper Cane is using descriptive names and words on their “Elouan” and “Willametter” labels to mislead consumers into inferring that their wines are sourced from the Willamette Valley AVA or infer that they are sourced from a non-existent AVA. This has the appearance of willfully causing confusion as to the geographic origin of the wine and is a misuse of Oregon geographic terms."
Though Copper Cane has sourced wine grapes from Oregon, federal law requires that at least 75 percent of grapes used to make the wine be sourced from a specific AVA and that the wine be fully finished within the state in which the county is located in order to be labeled with the name of that AVA, of which there are currently 18 regions and sub-regions in Oregon.
The letter restates concerns aired to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission by Oregon winemakers and the Oregon winegrowers association on Sept 21.
The letter from the congressional delegation recognized “the state of Oregon is known as a world-class wine region producing extraordinary wines from over 760 wineries and more than 1,140 vineyards growing 72 grape varieties, Oregon winemakers pride themselves on high-quality grapes and wines and have earned a global reputation for exceptional quality.”
Lawmakers requested a field audit of Copper Cane wines and an investigation of "the labeling practices of Copper Cane to ensure that the company is in compliance with all federal regulations."
If Copper Cane is found to be out of compliance with federal regulations regarding AVAs, the Oregon lawmakers requested that "any offending products should be removed from the market immediately."
In the weeks before these legislators filed this request, Copper Cane canceled contracts for 2,000 tons of wine grapes with more than 15 Southern Oregon growers, allegedly due to smoke taint. Oregon wineries continue to work to redirect these rejected grapes, tested to be largely sound, to Oregon winemakers.
Emily Teel is the Food & Drink Editor at the Statesman Journal. Contact her at email@example.com, Facebook, or Twitter. See what she's cooking and where she's eating this week on Instagram: @emily_teel