Wine makers face trouble from out-of-state imposters
By Colin Ellis
Newberg Graphic Reporter
Known as a major wine producer in the state, Newberg and other towns like it could be facing trouble from out-of-state winemakers passing off their product as made in Oregon.
According to various reports, pinot noir that was made in California was discovered in Oregon with labels saying it had been made on the Oregon coast, despite that type of grape not growing there. A recent meeting at the U.S. Capitol saw experts testifying to the issue.
According to a report from the Associated Press, the problem was noticed and brought up by Rep. David Gomberg, who represents a coastal region of Oregon. Cardboard cases from California, Gomberg said, referred to three Oregon grape growing areas: the Willamette, Rogue and Umpqua valleys. However, Oregon wine cannot have three viticultural areas in one wine, according to state law.
Newberg is home to dozens of wine tasting rooms, bars, cellars and grape crushing operations, as well as wineries and vineyards. The Willamette Valley alone boasts hundreds of wineries, with Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville standing out among those in Yamhill County.
This comes just before the U.S. Senate passed a resolution marking the economic value of wine producing areas, which came under the leadership of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, introduced a companion resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. Other Oregon representatives who have signed onto this version include Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, all Democrats.
In a press release, the Wine Origins Association (WOA) praised the resolution as a bipartisan effort.
"Oregon wine country is one of the most beautiful and productive regions of our state," Merkley said in the release. "Our delicious pinots, rieslings and more create jobs and fuel our tourist economy. I am happy to recognize the wine industry's incredible contributions to Oregon and the United States, and will continue to be a strong ally and customer."
The WOA is an organization that works to ensure wine region names are protected and not abused or miscommunicated to consumers. Oregon and Willamette Valley are members of the organization.
"Every wine region around the world produces wine that is impossible to duplicate anywhere else, and I want to thank Senators Blunt and Merkley for their leadership in introducing and securing the passage of this resolution to recognize that special places make unique wines," said Harry Peterson-Nedry, representative for the Oregon Winegrowers Association and Willamette Valley Wineries Association.
According to a release from the Oregon Wine Board, Oregon approved stricter wine labeling standards than required by the federal government at the industry's request. This included a requirement that 100 percent of wine grapes must come from Oregon, compared to 75 percent federally. In addition, 95 percent must be sourced from the named AVA instead of the federal 85 percent, as well as 90 percent from the named variety as opposed to the 75 percent federal threshold, although 18 grapes traditionally used in blends are accepted.
The Willamette Valley Wineries Association referred all questions to the Oregon Wine Board. Representatives from the board were not able to provide further comment Friday afternoon.
Jana McKamey, vice president of governmental affairs for the Oregon Wine Association, said the Oregon wine community has been at the forefront of protecting its wine regions and promoting truth-in-labeling for a long time.
"The Oregon Winegrowers Association's priority is to assist state and federal regulatory agencies in ensuring all wineries, wherever they are crushing grapes, comply with federal regulations and Oregon's 41 year old labeling rules that are designed to protect the integrity of Oregon's esteemed winegrowing regions," McKamey said. "The Senate resolution supports our efforts and we appreciate Sen. Merkley and Rep. Blumenauer leading the charge."