UPDATE: This story was updated at 6 p.m. with additional details from the state.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has accused a California winemaker of illegally selling its wine in Oregon and is proposing to revoke its state certificate, a step that would shut off the winemaker’s access to the Oregon market.
Steve Marks, OLCC executive director, issued his notice of revocation on Nov. 20, citing Copper Cane LLC for its “intentional” and “repeated” failure to obey Oregon law resulting in “sales of unlawful products.”
The state’s action focuses on what it determined was the deliberate mislabeling of wines by making them appear to come from Oregon wine growing regions. In fact, the revocation notice said, in three instances the wine “was not finished in the state of Oregon.”
The proposed revocation comes just days after federal regulators ordered the California wine processor to change its labels.
No official of the company, based in Rutherford, Calif., could be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Oregon winegrowers sought enforcement action by both state and federal officials because they said Copper Cane was selling wines labeled with particular viticultural areas of Oregon that could mislead consumers.
The Nov. 20 notice cited Copper Cane for three violations for illegally using labels that “claimed or implied” the wine was from specific Oregon regions, such as the Rogue Basin and two violations for mislabeling bottle cartons.
The OLCC also said Copper Cane used “false or misleading” advertising when it used packaging for four wines “that stated that the grapes were from the Oregon Coast or a coastal area in Oregon when there are no grape-producing areas on the Oregon Coast.”
The company also was cited for labeling two wines as coming from three regions in Oregon when the particular wine had to be made 85 percent from grapes of a single region.
Regions such as the Willamette, Rogue and Umpqua Valleys are regulated on the state level by the OLCC and federally by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, also known as the TTB.
State law gives the OLCC's six-member commission discretion to grant or strip such certifications, which depends on many circumstances, the letter noted.
"Those circumstances in this matter include Copper Cane's repeated failure to comply with laws and rules, the intentionality of Copper Cane's actions, the volume of the sales of unlawful product sold within the state of Oregon and the number of violations committed by Copper Cane, which indicate a disregard for the law," the notice said.
Copper Cane has until Dec. 20 to appeal the proposed revocation. The OLCC must act to impose the revocation, but that can be done administratively if the company doesn’t contest the revocation, according to the notice.
Agency spokesman Matt VanSickle said he was unsure whether Copper Cane could appeal beyond the commission.
"We are the license-issuer, therefor they have to go through us," he said. But he left open the possibility Copper Cane could take it to court. "I suppose it's possible."
VanSickle could not say revoking Copper Cane's certificate meant retailers would have to take wines off shelves. He said the punishment may have some caveats to limit impacts to distributors, who buy stocks of wines from manufacturers like Copper Cane. He said distributors may be able to change the wines' labels before putting them on shelves.
State Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, issued a press release calling for more sanctions. Gomberg, who serves on the House Economic Development and Trade Committee, has been a vocal opponent of the Napa Valley winery and owner Joe Wagner.
"As a result of his unlawful acts, Joe Wagner will no longer be able to sell his wine in Oregon. I am asking the federal government to do the same and stop Wagner from selling Elouan wine in the other 49 states," he said.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930.