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Calistoga granted its own appellation

  • Roger Louer, co-owner of Calistoga Cellars, is shown in this 2008 file photo. His winery, which has been producing wine since 1998, will have to change its name or alter its business model following a decision by federal regulators to make Calistoga the 15th sub-appellation in Napa Valley. (MARK ARONOFF / The Press Democrat)

There was never much question that Calistoga would be recognized as its own unique grape-growing region, as it was last week by federal regulators.

The area surrounding the tourist town at the toasty northern tip of the Napa Valley had a unique enough climate, geography, and grape-growing history to justify having an American Viticultural Area all its own.

The thorny question that vexed regulators and sparked a fierce truth-in-labeling debate was whether two wineries using Calistoga in their names but not many Calistoga grapes in their wines should be exempted from the new rules.

The 300-member Napa Valley Vintners and owners of the most storied Calistoga winery, Chateau Montelena, argued that exempting the two wineries would confuse consumers and jeopardize both the Napa Valleys reputation and the integrity of the entire AVA system.

Others saw a David-versus-Goliath battle that left two small wineries threatened with extinction at the hands of large, entrenched winery interests.

Calistoga Cellars, established in 1998, started a Stand Up for the Little Guy letter-writing campaign. It joined with Calistoga Estate, established in 2005, in arguing the new rules would have a devastating financial impact on their operations.

But after six years of review, regulators last week passed the new rules establishing the Calistoga AVA with no exemptions, a decision hailed as the latest victory for truth-in-labeling in the wine industry.

It has been a long road, but like the incredible wines made in Calistoga, we will savor this wonderful news, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a statement.

The 2007 proposal to allow grandfathering was not specific just to Calistoga, but would have opened the door to similar exemptions in AVAs across the nation, said Rex Stults, industry relations director for the Napa Valley Vintners.

If these changes went through, wine labels would effectively have no meaning, Stults said.

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