Napa Valley's Gripes of Wrath

Vintners wage a tart tussle over new appellations

California winemakers are rather like an extended family, in which fierce competition to concoct a better Chardonnay seldom intrudes on friendship. These days, however, a territorial dispute is pitting neighbor against neighbor. "I am thoroughly opposed to slicing up the Napa Valley," declares winemaker Joe Heitz. "It is asinine, stupid and ridiculous."

What riles Joe Heitz involves a subject that mystifies many oenophiles, even though millions of marketing dollars are affected: American Viticultural Areas, often informally called appellations. Heitz is prominent among the winemakers who are fighting a proposal put forward by many of his neighboring vintners that would designate new...

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