Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snipes Mountain AVA

Been meaning to get to this since last week. The TTB has established a new American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the Snipes Mountain region of the Yakima Valley, Washington State, effective February 20th, 2009. The new AVA exists within the current Yakima Valley AVA, which in turn is within the greater Columbia Valley AVA. As you might expect, this nested AVA is quite small, at 4,145 acres it's the second smallest in the state according to Wine Press NW. But it is huge compared to the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, California, which is only 62 acres. Also, note that the new AVA incorporates Bridgman Cellars, makers of a particularly favorite Viognier of mine. (Image from WinesNW)

AVAs exist so that winemakers from exceptional regions can denote that their wines are produced with a minimum of 85% grapes from that region. The requirements for establishing an AVA include local or national recognition of the name and boundaries, historical evidence of viticulural use within the area, and data on the special climate, elevation, soil , etc. of the region. For an interesting look at the process and requirements check out the Final Ruling on the Snipes Mountain AVA.

It's interesting to note that the Notice and Comment phase of the application brought in six comments, one of which brought up a potential problem involving a nearby wine region going by the name of "Snipes Canyon". The TTB responded to this:
"TTB believes ‘‘Snipes Mountain’’ is readily distinguishable from ‘‘Snipes Canyon.’’ Further, TTB is not aware of any conflict with existing brand labels that would occur if the viticultural area is established as proposed."
Though it seems the TTB isn't worried about this, perhaps the wineries should be.

The AVAs in the Napa Valley region led to a host of litigation regarding the protection and use of the AVA in trademarks and COLAs. (See Bronco v. Jolly, 95 P.3d 422 (Cal. 2004); Bronco v. Jolly, 29 Cal.Rptr.3d 462 (Cal. Ct. App. 2005))

In Bronco, the Napa Valley Vintner's Association challenged Bronco's use of several Napa AVAs in its brand names "Napa Ridge", "Rutherford Vintners", and "Napa Creek Winery". These brands had been grandfathered in under 27 CFR §4.39(i)(2), but ran afoul of a California law prohibiting the use of an AVA name when the grapes originated elsewhere, in this case Lodi. 27 CFR §4.39(i) governs the prohibited uses of AVAs, and reads (emphasis provided):
(i) Geographic brand names.
(1) Except as provided in subparagraph 2, a brand name of viticultural significance may not be used unless the wine meets the appellation of origin requirements for the geographic area named.
(2) For brand names used in existing certificates of label approval issued prior to July 7, 1986:
(i) The wine shall meet the appellation of origin requirements for the geographic area named; or
(ii) The wine shall be labeled with an appellation of origin in accordance with § 4.34(b) as to location and size of type of either:
(A) A county or a viticultural area, if the brand name bears the name of a geographic area smaller than a state, or;
(B) A state, county or a viticultural area, if the brand name bears a state name; or
(iii) The wine shall be labeled with some other statement which the appropriate ATF officer finds to be sufficient to dispel the impression that the geographic area suggested by the brand name is indicative of the origin of the wine.
(3) A name has viticultural significance when it is the name of a state or county (or the foreign equivalents), when approved as a viticultural area in part 9 of this chapter, or by a foreign government, or when found to have viticultural significance by the appropriate ATF officer.
After a million dollars of litigation going up and down the California court system Bronco lost the use of its brands.

Of course Bronco was a case where there was a specific California law prohibiting that sort of labeling and Bronco was making an enormous volume of wine with brands purchased specifically for their misleading names referencing a world famous AVA.

A quick search didn't turn up anyone using the actual brand "Snipes Canyon", though Brian Carter Cellars has a named Snipes Canyon vineyard. And of course any Snipes Canyon wines would still be entitled to use both the Yakima and Columbia Valley AVAs. So while it doesn't look like there will be a problem immediately, this is exactly the sort of situation that makes winery trademark lawyers nervous, so it's unlikely anyone will risk using the trademark.

Final note: there is a Snipes Mountain Brewery. Which raises the question of geographic labeling of beer all over again.

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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.