'Napa Valley' Label Gets Legal Status in China
One of the world's most famous wine-producing regions, Napa Valley, has a new legal status in the world's second-largest economy, China.
It's called "geographic indication status" and this is the first time that China's granted it to any American agricultural product, or to any wine-producing region outside its own borders. About a fourth of Napa's wineries are doing a booming business in China, selling $31.5 million in 2010 and $55.5 million in 2011. But some of them have run into a problem shared by many other exporters - counterfeiting. Linda Reiff, executive director of the Napa Valley Vintners, says winemakers discovered it when they began developing the China market ten years ago.
"We were finding, unfortunately, some products made in China misusing the Napa name on the label," Reiff says, "and that's what started this effort. In order to get those wines taken out of the marketplace, we had to go to the (Chinese) government to get their help."
And as more Chinese develop a palate for wine, winemakers want to be sure they're not learning to associate the Napa name with an inferior product. Bruce Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars, one of the local winemakers who took part in the negotiations, says it's a win for Chinese consumers as well. "They'll have that truth-in-labeling confidence that when it says Napa Valley, it comes from Napa Valley."
Cakebread's been traveling to China for a decade, and has watched the market for wine broaden out from a small elite more concerned with prestige than taste. "What we're seeing now is a lot of young people coming and trying different wines," he says, "young wine drinkers looking at white wines now, as well as red, to be able to enjoy with friends as well as pairing with food. It's like what we saw in the US over the last forty or fifty years."
The vintners say the next hurdle will be working with Chinese authorities on enforcement.
Now that Napa Valley has this status, Reiff hopes that others will benefit as well. "Wine is a great ambassador for California agriculture in general, " she says, "and this is a way for other growers to follow and achieve success in the Chinese market for their products."
China isn't the only emerging market on the valley's agenda. The Napa Valley name was also granted legal status in Brazil last week, and was already recognized in India and Thailand.