SAN FRANCISCO – California's Napa Valley is making a name for itself in Europe with officials there declaring that wine bottles can't say Napa on the label if the grapes come from someplace else.
The European Union's decision to grant Napa Valley what is known as "geographic indicator" status, reached earlier this year and scheduled to be formally announced in San Francisco on Thursday, was hailed by vintners as a breakthrough.
"It's been a wild ride," said Doug Shafer, president of Shafer Vineyards, a Napa Valley producer of high-end wines. "The fact that we have this protection is wonderful."
The EU agreement is the first time the Napa name has been protected outside California, where a state law bans producers from slapping a Napa label on non-Napa grapes.
"The momentum for wine recognition is gaining so rapidly," said Terry Hall, spokesman for the Napa Valley Vintners, a trade group that has been fighting to protect the Napa name.
The EU action also applies to imports, meaning other countries can't bring faux Napa products into Europe, said Hall, noting that a number of wines are being sold under the Napa name, including Clos du Napa in Britain.
The push for label authenticity goes beyond Napa.
In accords reached with the EU two years ago, the United States agreed to ask Congress to stop U.S. producers from using names such as sherry, port and Champagne that refer to European wine-growing regions. However, that agreement grandfathered in existing U.S. brands.
Producers from Champagne, Porto and Jerez are campaigning for expanded protection in the United States through the Washington-based Center for Wine Origins.
In March, producers from wine-growing regions in the United States as well as Italy, Australia and Hungary signed on to a "Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin," bringing the total number of regions involved in the effort to 13.
The campaigns are a big shift from 25 years ago, when Shafer can remember going to Europe and finding people who had only a hazy idea of where California was, let alone Napa. "California was just this big place kind of near Australia," he said.
"What's been great is to see top wines from Napa being sold worldwide," he said. "All of a sudden you're on a world stage and you get compared with the top wines in the world."