Corporate greed has reared its ugly head in the wine world and this time it has impacted California’s prestigious Russian River Valley; a cool-weather appellation known for its prized pinot noir and chardonnay wine grapes. In late 2011, Federal regulators approved a controversial plan to expand the prestigious Russian River Valley vineyard appellation south to Cotati, a change that was fought by some Russian River grape growers. The change added over 14,000 acres to the Russian River Valley viticultural region and was sought by the leading U.S exporter of California wine, E&J Gallo. Gallo owns 350 acres of vineyards flanking Highway 101 on the Cotati Grade and their corporate greed is as lowbrow as their Boone’s Farm® brand.
Why did E&J Gallo spend both time and money to pursue this legislation? The name change allows Gallo to use ‘Russian River Valley’ on their wine label for grapes grown in those 350 acres of aforementioned vineyards. The result is Gallo will be able to command more money for the same wine. For example, La Crema produces chardonnay from both the Russian River Valley and along the Sonoma Coast. The La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay retails around $30/btl while their Sonoma Coast chards retail between $11/btl-$22/btl. It is important to note that all three chards use similar wine making techniques such as oak aging (8.5 months for the Russian River chard and 7.5 months for the Sonoma Coast chards) as cost of wine production has a direct impact on price.
The expansion was opposed by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, a regional trade group that stated the added territory has little in common with the Russian River Valley and it too far way. Specifically, that the added acreage has different weather and a later harvest than Russian River Valley which impacts wine production. Ultimately, it has been stated (and I agree) that the expansion will confuse consumers and hurt the reputation of Russian River Valley wines.
E&J Gallo owns a number of household wine brands including: Barefoot®Cellars, Bartles & Jaymes®, Carlo Rossi®, Louis M. Martini®, and Turning Leaf®, just to name a few. Unfortunately, Gallo also owns my everyday favorite pinot grigio brand, Ecco Domani® which I am now substituting for Cavit in protest. When shelling out top dollar for those Russian River Valley wines, check the wine label and do your research to ensure you are paying for the “real” RRV.
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