The Oregonian article regarding Copper Cane's misrepresentation of Oregon AVAs on its labels and marketing materials generated a lot of interest, as did the Oregon Wine Press article "Joe Wagner Responds: Copper Cane owner explains his side of the story."
In the latter, Wagner made a number of claims about his dispute with the Oregon Winegrowers Association and our founder/CEO Jim Bernau.
Jim Bernau responded in this Q&A on Wine Business Monthly and has since added some additional information:
Why is the Oregon Winegrowers Association challenging Elouan and “The Willametter” marketing?
JB: The marketing is deceptive, violating federal and state law. For example, printed prominently on the Elouan case boxes is “Oregon Coast Pinot Noir,” appearing to play off prominent California Coast AVAs. No Pinot Noir is grown on the Oregon Coast (or successfully can be). Three leading Oregon AVAs, the Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley are listed as if they are nested in this larger, fictitious AVA.
The branding on “The Willametter Journal” and a number of Elouan labels, packaging and marketing materials illegally state or deceptively infer Oregon AVAs. This branding has created market confusion and is devaluing our distinctive AVAs. Consumers are being led to believe these wines are made in Oregon, they are not.
Federally approved American Viticultural Area designations are based upon unique geology, soils and climate taking much research and a lengthy process to obtain from the federal agency, the TTB. They are especially so in Oregon as their use or inference on labels and marketing materials require strict adherence to the highest AVA and variety standards in the nation.
The wine must be made in Oregon with 100% Oregon grapes, only one AVA may be stated or implied with the grapes being a minimum 95% from the named AVA and at least 90% Pinot Noir (and other varieties) when those varieties are named.
Oregon winemakers have worked together for 35 years adhering to these standards and paying the highest tonnage tax in the country to support them.
On Standards of AVA content:
JB: Joe Wagner’s actions threaten the AVA system of unique geographic pedigrees federally adopted in 1978 with now 242 distinct AVAs in the United States.
He is illegally listing AVAs, allowing him to capitalize on the reputation they have achieved. Wagner now is advocating he be allowed to list percentages of grape content from the named AVAs, but this approach would gut the unique, individual distinctiveness of each AVA.
Isn’t this what he did with Meiomi?
JB: No, the Meiomi label relies on a provision in the federal code allowing up to three counties to be listed with percentages. As these California counties are well known, the marketing worked. While the Oregon counties Marion, Josephine and Jackson can be used to market Elouan, they are not well known. Joe Wagner is instead using something to which he is not entitled — Oregon AVA names which are based upon specific viticultural conditions and winemaking standards that are highly regarded by consumers.
Haven’t other wine regions including the Napa Valley seen this kind of behavior?
JB: The Napa Valley Vintners Association has been very active in stopping deceptive advertising of wines capitalizing on the equity winegrowers have built over the years in that AVA. Richard Mendelson wrote “Appellation Napa Valley, Building and Protecting an American Treasure” detailing the many attempts to deceptively exploit the financial premium that has been created in the marketplace for the remarkable wines of the Napa Valley AVA. The Wine Origins Alliance (Origins.wine), dedicated to protecting the integrity of wine region names, recently secured passage of U.S. Senate Resolution 649 recognizing the value of AVAs.
On Wagner’s claim of better winemaking control in California:
JB: Wagner is reported to say he likes “to do everything under one roof,” giving him the winemaking control he wants. That it is cold comfort regarding adherence to Oregon standards and doesn’t square with his federal label (COLA) filings.
Elouan is made at LangeTwins, a contract 4 million case plant near Lodi, the same who makes Meiomi. That’s an hour and half drive from Rutherford where The Willametter is made. Wagner has used three custom crush plants (including Safe Harbor Partners and Laird Family Estate) and two Copper Cane facilities in different locations for his Oregon labeled wines. For example, there are two COLAs for the ‘16 Elouan Pinot Noir at Laird Family Estate in Napa & Copper Cane in Rutherford in the same year.
While we know he isn’t following the law on labeling and advertising, we hope the cellar staffs of these numerous plants know the difference between Oregon and California standards and are following Oregon law — although his wines don’t taste like Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.
For example, it is illegal in Oregon labeled wine to use additives commonly used to make mass produced Pinot Noir in California. Color and mouthfeel concentrates called Mega Purple, Ultra Red, Purple 8000 and Red 8000 are made from the Teinturier grape Rubired which is prohibited in Oregon wine since the grape is not grown here. Illegal use of even a small amount of these powerful additives greatly alters the distinctive, cool climate Willamette Valley Pinot Noir colors, aromas and flavors.
The Oregon Congressional Delegation has requested the TTB conduct field product integrity audits of Copper Cane asking “any offending products should be removed from the marketplace immediately.” The TTB is very thorough, reconciling grape contracts, grape sources and varietal composition, weigh tags, winery computer recorded additives identified in the Varietal Composition or Ingredient fields, cellar work orders, ingredient POs and invoices, tank and barrel transfers and finished packaged volumes compared to the label, packaging and advertising claims.
Aren’t some of the industry’s complaints about federally approved labels?
JB: The TTB label reviewers were misled. Wagner used the term “Vinted” instead of using the legally required term “Produced” on the label. He was actually producing the wine from grapes in California.
A label reference to an AVA is legal if the wine is “Produced” (fully finished) in the state of origin. By using the term “Vinted” on the label, the TTB was misled into believing the wine was made from grapes into wine in Oregon then trucked as bulk wine to California for bottling. If Wagner had used the term “Produced” on the label, as he is required to do, the TTB would have caught it and rejected the label submissions. The term “Vinted” is allowed when the wine is subject to cellar treatment at the bottling address.
The TTB does not see the case box design or the sales materials but requires that those representations be accurate and consistent with their label approval. They depend upon consumer and trade monitoring and act upon complaints which is what they are doing now. What appears to be misdirection on the label application and then the use of Oregon AVAs on packaging and sales material with a retail bottle price under $20 has resulted in a commercially very successful result. Neilsen 12-month scan data shows that Elouan Pinot Noir has grown into the number one selling Oregon branded Pinot Noir above $17 a bottle in just a few years — a wine that is advertised originating from the Oregon Coast and now made near Lodi, California.
As for the reference of multiple AVAs on the approved ‘17 Elouan Pinot Noir, we believe the TTB label reviewer just missed it. Only one reference is allowed under federal law, 85% of the content must be from the referenced AVA with the wine made in the state of origin. The Oregon wine industry has asked the TTB to withdraw approval of this label to preserve the AVA system and truth in labeling — AVAs are not blending grapes, they are distinctive geographic designations representing the wine from that specific AVA.
What’s the financial benefit to using Oregon AVAs?
JB: If Wagner was making and selling his wine legally like other Oregon producers sourcing from various AVAs, he would only be able to list “Oregon” as the origin. But wines using an Oregon AVA, like the Willamette Valley, earn a higher price (costs are higher too). One can make more money by using lower cost grapes, mixing in some higher cost Willamette Valley AVA fruit and deceptively marketing it by referencing the Willamette Valley.
Among the top 25 Oregon Pinot Noir brands reported by volume in annual Nielsen scans, the average retail bottle price is $26.04 for Willamette Valley AVA Pinot Noir, but $14.30 for a Oregon appellated Pinot Noir. Elouan, with its Willamette Valley packaging, has put the AVA on discount at $7 per bottle less at the attractive under $20 retail price — helping explain its sales growth.
For every 100,000 cases of sales, Elouan Pinot Noir marketed with the Willamette Valley AVA can illegally achieve approx. $3 million more at FOB than the average “Oregon” appellated wine.
What’s this claim about Wagner not paying his Oregon taxes?
JB: Wineries licensed to make wine in Oregon must pay $25 per ton tax to support the wine quality and marketing efforts of the state and AVAs. As one must make the wine in Oregon to legally use the state’s AVAs, Wagner is dodging the tax, but still using the AVAs. If he had made the wine in Oregon, an estimated $200,000 in taxes would have been properly paid.
Why are Southern Oregon growers so unhappy with Copper Cane?
JB: Wagner, using a smoke taint clause, cancelled all his Rogue Valley grower 2018 picks (130,000 case equivalent) only days before harvest, leaving growers no time to find alternative buyers.
Nielsen retail annual data ending in June shows Elouan scanned 45,146 cases in national retail sales, an annual growth of 19,730 cases. For grocery store brands, Nielsen scan data can account for more than 70% of total sales. Copper Cane reported to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission purchasing 4,026 tons of Oregon grapes in 2017, equivalent to approx. 261,715 cases. Elouan ‘15 Pinot Noir on the shelves in Oregon is behind a vintage and a major chain is discontinuing the ‘16 Rosè and has been seen at Grocery Outlets for $3.99 per bottle.
Doing the math, it looks like Copper Cane is severely over inventoried and to be fair to the grower families, Wagner should at least pay the uninsured growers for their crop. We do support the insurance claims of those impacted by smoke taint as we learned of pockets of damaged fruit first hand. A blanket cancellation was unfair in those instances where quality was high, casting a pall on the Rogue Valley ‘18 vintage, among the nicest grapes in decades.
A coalition of Oregon winemakers, using independent lab results, saved as much of the stranded, high quality crop as possible, paying the full contracted prices. The wine developing in the cellars is beautiful. We can’t wait to release the Oregon Solidarity wine, first envisioned by Ed King of King Estate Winery, as a fundraiser for the devastated growers.
Why do you think Wagner has filed to cancel your trademarks?
JB: We believe he is trying to bully us. Shortly after I asked Wagner to stop misrepresenting Oregon AVAs and infringing on our trademarks, his lawyers filed to cancel them. A tactic like that might work with someone who doesn’t have the money or the community support to defend themselves.
He has signaled he will drop the trademark challenge and the Willametter brand if we support Elouan with his use of the state’s AVAs listing percentages of content. In his effort to profit from the equity others have built, this proposal would destroy the AVA system. We believe in the value of these geographic pedigrees and the reputational equity winemakers and growers have created in them.
There is some irony in his argument, that our winery brand should lose its trademark due to the AVA having the same name, given his illegal use of it.
We will oppose his trademark cancellation attempts for the same reason we will defend our AVAs, not just for ourselves, but the many other wineries with brands similar to or the same as AVAs. Just because an AVA is established, it doesn’t mean the winery trademark is no longer valid. The “discovery” process in the trademark proceedings may reveal what is actually in the Wagner “Oregon” and “Willametter” wines.
The Oregon wine industry has grown through collaboration and respectful treatment of its colleagues. Oregon winemakers welcome newcomers with kindness, but ask for lawful and respectful conduct in return.
What are you asking the industry leaders of the nation’s AVAs to do?
JB: We are asking they write the Administrator of the TTB and ask that in the TTB label approval process they enforce the law to preserve the integrity of American Viticultural Area destinations by allowing only one AVA to be named, referenced or implied on the label and only on wine that is legally qualified for such a reference.
Second, we are asking industry members to contact their state liquor control agencies asking that upon licensee renewal for Copper Cane to do business in their state, Copper Cane be required to demonstrate, under penalty of perjury, that they are in full compliance with all federal and state laws (including Oregon law when using those designations) regarding wine composition, labeling, packaging and advertising.
By acting in solidarity, the nation’s AVAs can protect our unique geographic designations.
View Jim Bernau's PowerPoint presentation.
With a change in the season comes a new Willamette Valley Vineyards food pairings menu! Be sure to visit the Estate Tasting Room to try some of these fantastic menu options that pair perfectly with our classic Oregon wines you love. The menu now denotes meals that are or can be modified to be gluten-free, vegetarian and/or vegan. Below is our new menu.
We can't wait for you to enjoy these new dishes!
Over the years we have been dedicated to supporting our community by giving back to numerous non-profits and charities every year. This includes, but not limited to, donating tours and tastings as auction items for local non-profits and working with ¡Salud! to provide access to healthcare for Oregon's seasonal vineyard workers and their families.
Last month, I received an invitation to continue our support of the community by participating in Dancing with the Salem Stars, an annual fundraiser to raise money and awareness for the historic Elsinore Theatre. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive at first, but between my wonderful professional dance partner and the support from Willamette Valley Vineyards staff, family and friends, it became one of my most memorable experiences. On the night of the event, audience members voted for their favorite act and I was honored to be voted first place, winning the coveted Mirrorball Trophy.
Last Thursday, at our "Game of Clones" Pairings Wine Dinner, Lead Winery Ambassador Kacie Copeland unveiled a new display in our Estate Tasting Room prominently featuring the Mirrorball Trophy. Immediately following the unveiling, I surprised guests by performing the winning dance to the Game of Thrones theme song with Executive Director and Owner Mark Lowes of Corvallis-based Utah Ballroom Dance Company. Below you'll find pictures from this memorable event.
I hope you will visit us soon to view the new display in person, and join us for an upcoming Pairings Wine Dinner.
The Roundhouse building in Folsom, California is making beautiful progress and is the future home to Willamette Wineworks — a new food, wine and blending experience by Willamette Valley Vineyards! Located in a beautiful part of the downtown area, the Roundhouse and Willamette Wineworks are expected to finish in the fall.
As of March 20th, all the welding was completed and the interior steel was set, allowing us to move on to the second floor where Willamette Wineworks will live. By late April, we'll be ready for the roof and parapet trusses. We are delighted to watch the progress after kicking off construction with a Roof Raising Celebration on February 17th. More than 300 Owners and wine enthusiasts joined us to toast the new station and take a commemorative photo that captured the historic moment. Being in Folsom, meeting locals and seeing their eagerness for the project, has sparked an incredible enthusiasm to join this vibrant community.
When Founder Jim Bernau learned about the vision for the new Historic District, he knew this was an incredible opportunity to share our story with more wine enthusiasts in California.
"Joining my brother in his Historic Folsom Station development and connecting our family's history to the area is a lifelong dream. We look forward to sharing our wine story through this new experience and being active members of the Folsom community," Jim explained.
Willamette Wineworks will feature our classic Oregon wines and food pairings from a local favorite, Scott's Seafood. They will be relocating to join us in the new Roundhouse building modeled after the original design, which housed trains in the 1800s. The new and unique hands-on wine-blending experience will allow people to learn more about the process of winemaking and enjoy their new wine creation.
Thank you to our Founding Owners for your continued support of Willamette Valley Vineyards and our new projects. We are excited to expand into the town of Folsom and grow our community of wine enthusiasts.
Please enjoy our Pairings - Holiday Food & Wine Entertaining Guide, which is inspired by the food and wine pairings we feature at our Estate Tasting Room. I hope you will share the recipes with your friends and family this holiday season. Our Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and cool-climate whites are acclaimed for being some of the most versatile food-friendly wines in the world. They enhance meals with their delicate aromas and flavors, refreshing acidity and elegant finishes.
We wanted to make it as easy as possible to order these wines for your table and to purchase as gifts. You will find special savings on wine, holiday gift sets and shipping enclosed. Call 1-800-344-9463 to have a friendly Winery Ambassador assist with your order or shop online.
We are excited to present our new Daily Pairings Menu filled with fresh, local seasonal ingredients that pair perfectly with our latest wine releases. Our Estate Tasting Room is open daily from 11 am - 6 pm. Please join us soon!
Celebrating Halloween is always a scary good time at our Estate, south of Salem. This weekend we enjoyed hosting many of our Wine Club Members and Owners during our annual Murder Mystery Dinner! This year, our members dared to join us at the Mayor's mansion and and enjoyed a custom New Orleans inspired menu created by Winery Chef, DJ MacIntyre paired with our latest wine releases. Little did they know, there would be more than wine pouring during their dinner...but maybe even a little blood.
Today, many team members are enjoying the fun of the holiday and dressing up for our guests who join us for a tasting. Introducing our new Tasting Room Associates: Rosie, John Wayne, Elvira, and Ms. Marilyn Monroe. We look forward to seeing all of our ghoulish guests dressed up and enjoying some of our classic Oregon wines!
View of Winery on the eve of the Solar Eclipse
Photo Credit: Janis Miglavs
Guests view the start of the Solar Eclipse. Photo credit: Scott Cassidy
Founder, Jim Bernau with daughter Emi at the admissions booth. Photo credit: Scott Cassidy
Dr. Mark Cheung gives presentation, "The Sun in a New Light." Photo credit: Scott Cassidy
Customers viewing the Solar Eclipse in North Carolina with 2015 Solar Eclipse Pinot Noir.
On Monday August 21st, 2017 over 1,200 guests gathered in the newly constructed Hillyer Amphitheater at the winery, south of Salem to witness the Great American Solar Eclipse as it crossed, in totality over the Willamette Valley.
This was the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse to occur in nearly a century with our vineyard in the direct path, creating an ideal viewing location.
Eclipse viewers filled the amphitheater, toasts of Frizzanté in hand to witness the solar eclipse. As the partial eclipse began at approximately, 9:06 am guests all united in amazement as we reached totality among the vines. Cheers erupted throughout the viewing and at 10:17 am, we all gazed up at the eclipse, which reminded us all at Willamette Valley Vineyards how important the sun is to the growing cycle of our vines.
As the eclipse concluded its path over the Willamette Valley guests celebrated with wine tasting, including sampling the 2015 Solar Eclipse Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, live music, educational seminars hosted by Dr. Mark Cheung, and food pairings.
Our Solar Eclipse Pinot Noir was sourced from the sub-AVAs in the Willamette Valley. Only 615 cases were produced of this bottle-numbered wine. Our Solar Eclipse Chardonnay was sourced from our three estate vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Only 315 cases were produced of this bottle-numbered wine meant to commemorate this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Thank you for making this truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Total Solar Eclipse over the East Block at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Photo credit: Scott Cassidy
Founder, Jim Bernau with the commemorative bottles of the 2015 Solar Eclipse Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Photo credit: Scott Cassidy
We are excited to present our new Daily Pairings Menu filled with fresh, local summer ingredients that pair perfectly with our latest wine releases. Our Estate Tasting Room is now open daily, 11 am - 6 pm and Thursday - Friday, 11 am - 8 pm until September 8th Please join us soon!
Black Garlic Hummus
Fish Street Tacos
Steelhead with Curried Cauliflower
BBQ Bacon Burger
Grilled Lamb Pita
Mason Jar Orange
Pot de Créme
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