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The Other Santa Rita

September 11, 2002|Russ Parsons

Getting a wine region declared an official American Viticultural Area by the federal government is always an ordeal, requiring studies of an appellation's history, climate, soil, geography and viticulture, a formal application and a series of public hearings. It takes years. But for the winemakers of the Santa Rita Hills, that was the easy part. Coming up with a name has been even tougher.

Their application, first put forward in 1997, was officially approved last year. That's when the Chileans got involved. It seems there is already a wine company in Chile called Vina Santa Rita, which makes a wide range of mostly moderately priced wines and exports them around the world. It filed suit arguing that the establishment of a wine region called Santa Rita Hills would confuse wine buyers who were looking for their product.

As lawsuits go, this one was almost friendly. Some of the Santa Rita Hills winemakers visited Chile, a contingent from Vina Santa Rita came to Santa Barbara for a barbecue. Negotiations ensued and in the end, it was decided that the Californians could go with an abbreviated form of the name, Sta. Rita Hills, on their labels.

Still, that didn't make everybody happy. As part of the agreement, the locals had to sign a pledge that they would do their best to keep the Chileans advised of any Californians who violated the rules.

Bryan Babcock, winemaker at Babcock Winery and Vineyards and one of those who wrote the original application, says he won't sign it. As a result, his wines that qualify won't be able to carry the name and will remain labeled simply "Santa Ynez Valley."

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