In a new campaign, growers are starting to probe how often foreign grapes are folded into wines labeled as American. Currently, federal law permits foreign blends to account for up to 25 percent of an American- labeled wine.
This is a different kind of appellation trail.
An appellation defines where a wine comes from. It can be famous, like the Napa Valley. It can be obscure, like the Tracy Hills. It can be all-encompassing, like California.
It can also incite protracted conflict, as grape growers and winemakers alike maneuver for marketing advantage and commercial opportunity. Several years ago, for instance, California's wineries split over an ultimately unsuccessful proposal to create a 22,000-square-mile "California Coast" viticultural area.
Since 1942, state law has mandated that only wine made completely from California grapes can be labeled with a California appellation. Federal rules differ, permitting the blending from foreign sources even on wines called American.
The blending occurs most frequently on inexpensive box wines, where the American designation may be easily overlooked. The foreign blending wines themselves may come from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Australia -- anywhere the winemaking costs are lower than in the United States.