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Napa Wine Must Have Napa Grapes, Lawmakers Say

August 29, 2000|From a Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — If Fred Franzia wants to sell his popular Napa Ridge wines in California, they must contain mostly Napa County grapes, according to a bill passed by the California Assembly on Monday.

In January, Franzia, owner of the San Joaquin Valley-based Bronco Wine Co., caused a panic in Napa's wine community when he paid Beringer Wine Estates $42 million for the rights to the winery's Napa Ridge label. Concerned that Bronco planned to use cheaper, non-Napa grapes to increase production under the label, the Napa Valley Vintners Assn. sought help from the California Legislature.

The 179 Napa winemakers asked lawmakers to close a federal loophole and require that any wine using Napa prominently in its label contain at least 75% Napa grapes. Several Assembly members from the Central and San Joaquin valleys, where most of California's grapes are produced, rose to oppose the bill, SB 1293.

"I speak to you today as a farmer," said freshman Assemblyman Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), whose family grows strawberries on the Central Coast. "If you take this label away [from Franzia] you are taking the contract away from a lot of small farmers."

But after pun-filled debate in which lawmakers accused each other of "whining" and "sour grapes" and urged opponents to "put a cork in it," the Assembly passed the bill 41-17. The measure now moves to the Senate, where its prospects are considered good.

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