Monterey Wants Conjunctive Wine Labels

Winery and grower stakeholders on board with plan to grow regional recognition

by Jane Firstenfeld
These wines from Carmel Road identify Monterey as well as the Arroyo Seco sub-AVA, meeting the proposed conjunctive labeling requirement.
Monterey, Calif.—Months of conversation and consensus building resulted in the “overwhelming” approval of plans to move forward with conjunctive labeling. The Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association (MCVGA) reached the agreement at its annual meeting Feb. 27. To become official, the proposal must be written into California law: Monterey Bay assemblyman Mark Stone will author Assembly Bill 394, allowing Monterey to join Napa, Lodi, Paso Robles and Sonoma as wine regions that require their names to be included on locally produced wines even when a sub-appellation is printed.

Conjunctive labeling can be an important step to regional brand recognition. Although Monterey enjoys international fame as a tourism destination, its wines have not been as widely known. The county includes more than 175 vineyards in eight individual AVAs including Arroyo Seco, Carmel Valley, Chalone, Hames Valley, San Antonio Valley, San Bernabe, San Lucas and the Santa Lucia Highlands, in addition to the broader Monterey appellation.

Many tourists spend their time and money in the coastal draws: historic Monterey, artsy Carmel-by-the-Sea, golfing mecca Pebble Beach and stunning Big Sur, unaware these diverse, inland wine regions even exist. The addition of tasting rooms in downtown Monterey and Carmel have in recent years helped to create interest.

Leaders and members of MCVGA hope conjunctive labeling will put Monterey wines on the world stage. Announcing the proposal, MCVGA president Scott Caraccioli said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to build upon the brand equity and loyalty of Monterey County grapes and wines. Additionally, conjunctive labeling in Monterey brings extra value by leveraging the existing positive international renown of the Monterey region.”

Getting on the same page
In an interview with Wines & Vines, executive director MCVGA Kim Stemler elaborated on the proposal and the anticipated results. After 18 months in the position, she said, “My understanding is that the community tried to do it in the past but was not successful. It’s taken years to get here.”

During the association’s annual strategic retreat last August, “We changed the vision and realized we had to do this. The shift was: If we want to be seen as a premier international wine region, we need to do this.” Leaders of the organization reached out to “everyone, including artisan wineries,” and found almost all the members to be onboard and open to building something with consensus.

In fact, “We had only one member say ‘no,’” Stemler recalled. “What we are doing differently is to give them an out, if they already had Monterey as the AVA”—as some already do—as opposed to Central Coast or California. “The way it will work is that, if the label uses one of the sub-AVAs, the term Monterey must appear somewhere on the label. It can be anywhere, giving wineries a lot of design freedom.

“At first, we wanted everyone to use ‘Monterey’ as an appellation of origin. Then, with the help of the Wine Institute, we realized we could use Monterey as a ‘term.’ This allows them to be more creative and flexible with labeling,” she noted. Stemler added that she’d seen survey results demonstrating that most wineries change their labels every three to four years. If adopted as expected, the conjunctive labeling law will not be enforced until January 2019, allowing ample time for alterations.

“Monterey is different than Paso Robles or Napa, which are known primarily for wine,” Stemler said. “Monterey is already a tourist place. Visitors have positive associations with Monterey.” Recognition is growing, she noted. “In 1986, there were only five tasting rooms in the county. Now we have 54.”

Assemblyman Stone already has authored a “place-holder” bill, and MCVGA is working to get other local legislators and county officials to back it. “We want to be covered locally,” Stemler said. Bringing all the stakeholders to the table first should help smooth the path, although, she acknowledged, “Some people just don’t want to be legislated.” For details about the conjunctive labeling proposal, visit montereywines.org.

Lessons learned in Sonoma
In 2013, Karissa Kruse succeeded Nick Frey as president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers. Years of wrangling had preceded Sonoma County’s adoption of conjunctive labeling in 2010, and the requirement finally took full effect in January 2014.

Contentious in its gestation, conjunctive labeling has become a non-issue. “I haven’t heard about any label that was rejected,” Kruse said. “I’ve had maybe 15-20 calls asking if the Sonoma name needs to be on the front or back label. There’s been no backlash.”

Last year, Sonoma County resolved to bring all county vineyards to sustainability by 2019. Kruse and her associates have been on the road promoting sustainable Sonoma and its wines. “It’s interesting; what’s positive for the stakeholders is marketing. For us, the timing of sustainability with conjunctive labeling is big. It’s nice to have 100 million bottles out there that say ‘Sonoma County.’ It’s effective and efficient branding, and pretty painless.”

With cooperation from the vintners and county tourism, Sonoma inaugurated an ambitious 24-month advertising campaign in consumer media. “I don’t know how conjunctive labeling doesn’t help,” to build brand recognition, Kruse said.

Sonoma plans to monitor its branding success, and started with a 2012 consumer baseline survey from Wine Opinions. Follow-up surveys will measure progress of the county’s wine marketing initiatives.

Currently no comments posted for this article.