Wine boost: US Patent and Trademark Office grants certification mark for Napa Valley

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Napa Valley wine must have 85% or more of its grapes from the area. Picture: istock / fcarucci
Napa Valley wine must have 85% or more of its grapes from the area. Picture: istock / fcarucci

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The Napa Valley Vintners has obtained a Certification Mark from the US Patent and Trademark Office for the name ‘Napa Valley,’ the first time an American Viticultural Area (AVA) has been registered in this way.

It has taken the trade association five years to register the mark, in an effort to protect the Napa Valley name globally. It says there is a need to protect consumers from wine brands which source grapes from elsewhere – yet still try to promote their wine as from the region.

The Napa Valley Vintners has gained protected status for Napa Valley wine in countries including Australia, China, the EU and New Zealand. The certification mark will help the organisation negotiate the status with further countries.

Deceptive labelling practices

“Over the years, we have found vintners producing wine in many countries, including China, South America, Spain and even here in the US, where the brand name said ‘Napa’ or a similar iteration, but the grapes were sourced from elsewhere,” ​Patsy McGaughy, Communications Director, Napa Valley Vintners, told BeverageDaily.

“The Napa Valley name stands for the highest quality wines made in America and among the best wines in the world. If the grapes in the bottle come from a different growing region, it is deceptive to consumers who are expecting to open a bottle of top quality wine from Napa Valley.

“We have worked on a number of initiatives, including this one, for more than 20 years to protect consumers from this kind of deception. The good news is that our diligence is reducing the frequency of such problems.

“However, we believe that in order to maintain the prestige of the Napa Valley brand and the confidence of wine consumers, it is imperative that every bottle of wine that says ‘Napa Valley’ on the label contains the required minimum amount of grapes from the Napa Valley AVA. The Certification Mark will help us to continue our quest for truth in labelling when it comes to Napa Valley wine.”

In order to gain the Certification Mark, the Napa Valley Vintners had to provide more than 50 written agreements from wine businesses that use the word ‘Napa,’ showing that these trademarks were compliant with AVA standards. After applying for the mark, 50 more agreements were negotiated with owners of new Napa trademarks to show enforcement of the mark.

Protecting wine abroad

The Napa Valley was designated as California’s first AVA in 1981. By law, wine sourced from an AVA must have at least 85% grapes grown within the region (unlike European appellations, AVAs solely designate the place where grapes were grown, rather than including requirements for grape cultivation processes or vinification practices).

The requirements for the certification mark are the same as the AVA requirements.

“While the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) enforces the appellation, the certification mark will provide Napa Valley Vintners with a private right of action in the event TTB cannot or will not take action,” ​said McGaughy.

The Napa Valley Vintners has already gained name protection status for the Napa Valley in Brazil, Australia, China, Canada, the EU, India, Israel, Norway, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey. The certification mark will help the organisation negotiate with other countries. 

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