FAQ

Wine Labeling Regulations

Q. Can I include Sonoma County on my front label along with my American Viticulture Area (AVA) or AVA and vineyard designation?
A. The short answer is yes.
There had been a problem of interpretation within the label compliance arena for a number of years and a definitive answer was only provide drecently. Susan Gregory, of Wine Institute confirmed with TTB that the correct interpretation of the regulations is the following.
Susan wrote: "Per our conversation, a winery may list a viticultural area as an appellation of origin provided not less than 85% of the grapes are grown in that viticultural area. You may, additionally, list on the label the county within which the viticultural area is located.This is acceptable to do under TTB regulations provided the wine meets all of the requirements to label with a particular AVA and the county listed is the county within which the AVA is located."
The TTB responded: "I concur with the information that was provided by Susan Gregory." Marsha Heath, TTB.

Q. What percentage of grapes must be from Sonoma County to have Sonoma County on the front label?
A. At least 75%.

Q. What percentage of grapes must be from the AVA if the AVA name is on the front label?
A. At least 85%.

Sonoma County Winegrape Commission

Q. Who does the Sonoma County Wine Commission represent?
A. It represents 1,800 Sonoma County winegrape growers. It focuses on marketing and education about Sonoma County's grape growing and issues important to sustaining profitable grape production.

Q. What do grape growers do to stop soil erosion?
A. It is very much in vineyardists' interest to preserve topsoil. Grape growers use mulch and plant cover crops to stop erosion in new vineyards, and many vineyards have permanent cover crops to reduce both dust and erosion. The Vineyard Erosion and Sedimentation Control Ordinance (VESCO) requires growers to submit erosion control plans for all new vineyards with greater than 10 or 15% slope.

Q. Is use of pesticides and herbicides on the rise in Sonoma County?
A. It is very much in vineyardists’ interest to protect consumers,workers, and the environment from harmful chemicals. Therefore, pesticide and herbicide usage (as measured by the Dept. of PesticideRegulation (DPR) in pounds applied) on established vineyards have decreased since 1999 in Sonoma County while grape acres have increased. Sulfur, an organic fungicide not known to be toxic to humans, comprises 80 percent of total pesticide usage.

Q. Will pests, including Pierce’s disease and phylloxera, wipe out Sonoma County’s grape industry?
A. Growers are selecting pest-resistant grape varieties and rootstocks when possible, but producers still risk vine loss to these pests.

Q. What do grape growers do to avoid water pollution?
A. New vineyards in Sonoma County must abide by 25- or 50-foot riparian setbacks, and control runoff in order to comply with VESCO. The Regional Water Quality Control Board, Fish and Game, and other state and federal agencies also have statutory authority affecting vineyard practices in new and established vineyards. These regulations are designed to protect water quality, endangered species and conserve soil.

Q. Is pesticide contamination of groundwater a serious problem in Sonoma County?
A. No. The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) stated in November 1999 that Sonoma County had no confirmed examples of groundwater pollution by agricultural pesticides.

Q. What do growers do to protect wildlife habitat?
A. We encourage our members to design vineyards to retain pockets ofunique natural habitat. In addition, many growers use permanent covercrops, place birdhouses and owl boxes in vineyards for biological control of insects and rodents, and preserve oaks and unique tree groves. Vineyards themselves provide wildlife corridors and habitat for numerous wild species.

Q. What’s the status of Sonoma County’s Vineyard Ordinance (VESCO)?
A. The ordinance was effective on March 8, 2000. Now any grower who wants to plant or replant a vineyard must notify the Agricultural Commissioner's office and submit an erosion control plan when average slope exceeds 10% on highly erodible soils or exceeds 15% on all othersoils.

Q. How many member vineyards are corporate versus family owned?
A. Most Sonoma County vineyards are small and privately owned, many by family corporations. In fact, 40% of vineyard owners have vineyards less than 20 acres and 80% have vineyards less than 100 acres. Grape production is one of the few crops to provide sufficient revenues to support numerous small farming operations.

Q. Do pesticides cause cancer?
A. Tests with animals show some chemicals are carcinogenic. Grape growers’ use of potentially carcinogenic chemicals is low and declining as growers adopt alternative and safer pest control measures, including reduced risk pesticides which have low human toxicity and do not induce cancer in test animals. No causal link has been found or verified by the American Cancer Society for cancer in humans due to pesticides used in grape production today.

Q. Do residences and vineyards compete for water?
A. Very few viticultural areas of Sonoma County can be dry farmed and provide a reliable crop for growers and their winery buyers. Therefore, the majority of our members irrigate, applying 20,000 to 160,000 gallons annually. Annual water use (from all sources, including soil, water and rainfall) per acre of grapes is less than required by an acre of apples, vegetable crops, or subdivision housing.

Q. Will all the rural land in Sonoma County be planted in grapes in my lifetime??
A. Like all agricultural products, premium grapes are subject to market demand. The Commission believes that market forces will restrain future development of vineyards. US wine consumption is increasing at less than 2%/year, thus increases in demand for wine and therefore premium grapes are limited. It is not conceivable to think a crop that today occupies only 6% of Sonoma County’s land area will even double its acreage in your lifetime. A greater risk is that urban growth will ultimately displace grape acres in your lifetime.

(1) For information, see www.sonomawinegrape.org
(2) Article 5, Chapter 30 of the Sonoma County Code; you may request a copy from the Commission or the County Agricultural Commissioner’s office.
(3) For information, see DPR annual pesticide use reports for Sonoma County.
(4) see DPR 338 well samples and the 11/99 DPR letter
(5) For more information, see our 11/99 white paper on "The State of the Science of Sonoma County Grape Growing."
(6) see the ACS website at www.cancer.org
(7)Personal communication from Dr. Mark Greenspan, Advanced Viticulture.