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Vintner Agrees to Drop ‘Napa’ From Wine Label

Times Staff Writer

Old wine, new flasks.

A long-running battle between the maker of the popular $1.99 Charles Shaw wine -- widely known as Two-Buck Chuck -- and the nation’s elite vintners over the use of “Napa” on labels came to an end Friday.

Bronco Wine Co. agreed to drop “Napa” from the label of a wine made with grapes grown outside the famous Napa Valley wine region. Two of Bronco’s Napa-named wines will contain Napa grapes, the Ceres, Calif., company said.

The accord settled a lawsuit brought by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, at the behest of the Napa Valley Vintners trade group, to enforce a 6-year-old state law requiring that at least 75% of the grapes used to make a bottle of wine must be grown in the county named on the label.

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Bronco, which is best known for Two-Buck Chuck, had fought the rule, arguing that its Napa Ridge, Napa Creek Winery and Rutherford Vintners wine brands were exempt. A 1986 federal law allows existing wine labels to keep their names even if they don’t meet the grape content requirement.

Napa’s vintners worked to get the more stringent state law passed to protect the integrity of the region’s wines, which include sub-appellations such as Rutherford, Carneros and Stag’s Leap.

Maverick winemaker Fred Franzia, whose family owns Bronco, has lost numerous rounds in the state Supreme Court and other courts attempting to overturn the law.

“This has been a long legal battle, but the settlement implementing the California Supreme Court’s decision levels the playing field for all California vintners,” said Jerry Jolly, director of the state beverage control agency. “It also helps consumers by setting strict labeling standards so that the public can have confidence in the wine that it is buying.”

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In January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

“We have accepted this and are moving on,” Franzia said. “It is a small part of the business and [we] really fought the fight over principle, but we didn’t win.”

The three brands in question account for $17 million of Bronco’s $500 million in annual sales. Franzia will change its Napa Ridge label to Harlow Ridge, named after the street in Napa where Bronco runs a large bottling plant.

The label will note that the grapes are from Lodi, Calif., a town south of Sacramento that is gaining recognition for its wines.

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Franzia said Bronco would use Napa grapes in the Rutherford Vintners and Napa Creek lines.

Bronco will have until Sept. 29 to sell the existing inventory with the contested labels.

“We applaud Bronco for its commitment to come into compliance with the law,” said Linda Reiff, executive director of the vintners group.

“The Bronco case is just one example, and we will remain vigilant to protect against future abuses in the other 49 states and abroad,” she added.

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