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Napa’s Copper Cane settles Oregon label fight with US$50K payout

Napa winery Copper Cane has come to a settlement with the Oregon licensing body over claims it misled consumers.

Joe Wagner of Copper Cane was ordered to change his Oregon wine labels in 2018

The winery, which makes a popular pinot Noir called Elouan, will pay $50,000 to the Oregon Liquor and Cannibis Commission (OLCC) and has agreed not to violate labelling laws Portland Business Journal reports, however the winery has not admitted any wrongdoing.

The settlement – one of the largest ever for the OLCC – marks the end of a three-year legal civil case with the OLCC over whether the winery was misleading consumers that the wines were produced in Oregon.

As reported by the drinks business, the winery was ordered to change its labels in 2018 after a regulator ruled that labels on its bottles of Elouan were misleading. The original labels seemed to imply the wine was produced in Oregon, due to references to “the coastal hills” of Oregon, Oregon being “an ideal place to grow grapes” and a map of the state’s key winemaking regions, Willamette, Rogue and Umpqua Valley. The combination of the wording and imagery was deemed to have sold customers a misleading picture of the wine’s provenance, the judge said, although the labels did state they were “vinted and bottled, Napa, CA”.

The grapes used in Elouan are grown in Oregon before being packed in dry ice and trucked to California for production and bottling. Although this is allowed under Oregon and federal rules, the wines must be designated as simply ‘Oregon’ wines – without references to specific regions or AVAs.

Although Copper Cane did change the labels, they were allowed by federal regulators to sell the wines that were already on the market, prompting industry groups and leading wineries in the state to press Oregon’s regulators to revoke the winery’s rights to sell wines in Oregon, according to the Portland Business Journal.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg refused to throw the case out in July this year, stating that “plaintiffs seek a truthful label, not necessarily a genuine Oregon wine”.

Speaking after last week’s settlement, Copper Cane’s owner Joe Wagner called the case “a charade” that had been largely fuelled by politicians and a competitor, the Portland Business Journal reported.

“I don’t blame the OLCC” he added, noting that the company had been working with the regulator since the 2018 ruling.

He also pointed that the settlement had included a caused stating that “it shall not be construed in any way as evidence that Copper Cane has committed the acts and violations set forth in the charging notice”.

Meanwhile Joe Bernau founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards and a leading player in the fight, said the OLCC had sent “a powerful message to any California producer and any other producer who misuses and misleads the public with their designations”.

“In Oregon, we take those designations seriously, and we will fight to protect them,” he said.

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