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Oregon Liquor Control Commission Takes Steps to Block Copper Cane From Shipping and Selling Wine in the State

Agency takes first step in revoking California winery's certificate to sell wine in Oregon
by Kerana Todorov
November 27, 2018

Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission has taken the first step toward revoking Joe Wagner’s Copper Cane permit to ship and sell wine in the Pacific Northwest state, according to a notice sent recently to the Napa Valley-based winery.

At issue is the labeling of Copper Cane’s Pinot Noir and Rosé wines. The labels improperly imply the wines come from American Viticultural Areas in Oregon when in fact the products are finished in California, state officials and industry representatives have claimed since this summer.

Steve Marks, director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, recently recommended that Copper Cane’s certificate that allows the company to ship and sell wine in Oregon be revoked, according to a notice sent Nov. 20 to the wine company.

Copper Cane has until Dec. 20 to appeal the proposed certificate revocation, according to the state agency. An administrative judge would then hear the case and make a decision which would then have to be ratified by members of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The wine already in the state could still be sold, according to OLCC spokesman Matthew Van Sickle. OLCC would have to issue a recall order to have the product removed from the shelves, Van Sickle said.

The Liquor Control Commission cited Copper Cane for seven alleged violations, according to the notice.
The allegations cited in the notice include improperly claiming or implying an appellation of origin in an American Viticultural Area on the labels for Elouan Klamath’s Kettle 2016 Pinot Noir, according to the notice. The back label makes reference to the “Rogue Basin,” though the wine cannot claim an appellation of origin in the Rogue Valley AVA because it is finished outside the state of Oregon, according to the document.

State regulators also alleged the company used “false or misleading” information on display cartons, and/or wine labels for Copper Cane’s Willametter 2017 Pinot Noir, Elouan 2017 Rosé, Elouan 2016 Rosé, and Elouan 2016 Pinot Noir, according to the notice. The cartons and labels claim the fruit for these wines came from the Oregon Coast or a coastal area in Oregon, according to the notice. In fact, these regions do not produce grapes for these wines, state officials said.

Oregon state Rep. David Gomberg, D-Central Coast, on Monday released the notice OLCC sent to Copper Cane on Nov. 20.

“I applaud OLCC Director Steve Marks for his action to uphold the integrity of our laws and Oregon wine industry,” Gomberg said in a written statement.

Gomberg, who has pursued the matter involving Copper Cane before various Oregon state agencies, called OLCC’s action against Copper Cane “vindicating.”

Wagner’s conduct created a “singular market opportunity,” Gomberg stated in his written statement. Elouan are more affordable than many Oregon Pinot Noirs and have the highest national retail scanned sales among Oregon Pinot Noirs, Gomberg and others said.

“Copper Cane claims they were simply engaged in ‘fanciful’ marketing. But the State of Oregon has determined that they crossed the line from fanciful to fraudulent, and that they cannot sell low-priced California counterfeits here and masquerade them as quality Oregon wines,” Gomberg said. He wants the federal government to stop Wagner from selling Elouan wine in the 49 other states, he said in his written statement.

Longtime Willamette Valley winemaker Jim Bernau was also pleased after saying repeatedly the Copper Cane labels were “misleading” and damaging to the Willamette Valley AVA.

“I expected the OLCC to take a firm action against Joe Wagner,” Bernau said Monday.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has ruled a number of Elouan labels should not have been approved, according to the TTB. Seven labels have been surrendered so far over the issues raised since this summer, according to the TTB. Two others were surrendered for reasons unrelated to the current controversy, according to the TTB.

The federal agency ordered labels for two Elouan wines produced in California changed, according to the TTB. The federal agency ordered that Copper Cane remove references to “Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue,” “Three diverse Valleys,” “Oregon’s Coastal Regions” and “Purely Oregon” from the labels, according to the TTB.

Gomberg has noted repeatedly the Coastal region is not home to Willamette, Umpqua or Rogue and the Coastal region does not produce Pinot Noir.

Still, about 900,000 bottles of wine already bottled and labeled can be sold, according to the agency, a decision Gomberg has disapproved publicly.

“While I applaud the TTB for taking action against these deceptive labels, they should reverse their decision allowing nearly 900,000 more wine bottles to be sold into the market,” Gomberg said in a statement on Nov. 19.

Gomberg, the Oregon Winegrowers Alliance, Oregon’s federal representatives and others have requested the TTB conduct on-site filed audits to verify that the Copper Cane wines are made “to Oregon standards, according to Gomberg and others. No results have been released.

A representative for Copper Cane could not be reached to comment on Monday.

 This article has been corrected.

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