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Copper Cane’s Joe Wagner Sees Bright Future For Oregon Wines Despite Labeling Controversy

September 27, 2018

Copper Cane Wines & Provisions launched its first Oregon label, Elouan, in 2015, initially selling 10,000 cases. Since then, the brand has found traction, with volume rising 40% to 70,000 cases last year and proceeding on a similar growth trajectory this year. Despite some recent controversy over the labeling of his Oregon wines, Copper Cane founder Joe Wagner tells SND that Elouan ($25) will play a key role in helping the company meet its goal of selling 1 million cases overall by 2021.

“Elouan as a whole is up over 40% this year,” says Wagner. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to supply ourselves with enough fruit to make that happen.” In March of this year, Wagner extended the Elouan range with two small-lot Pinot Noirs—Missoulan Wash Willamette Valley Reserve and Klamath’s Kettle Rogue Valley Reserve—positioned as trade-ups from the core brand at around $40.

In addition to Elouan, Wagner has launched the Willametter Journal Pinot Noir. Willametter Journal is a $30 release sourced entirely from the Willamette Valley, but must carry an Oregon AVA designation as it’s vinified in California. So far, half of the small initial production run of Willametter Journal has sold, and Wagner is confident the brand has strong potential. “In the first year, it’s kind of hard to tell how well a brand does, but at that price, I feel like it’s doing really well,” he says.

Wagner thinks the future of Oregon wine is bright. For the most part, he says, grape growers and winemakers are excited about the increased attention to the region and the influx of producers and new bottlings. However, Copper Cane’s Oregon portfolio has drawn the ire of a few Oregon winemakers and attention from the TTB. At issue for Elouan is the use of sub-AVA names on the label despite its official Oregon AVA designation. “We do state Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue on the back label on a map of Oregon,” he says. “We want to convey that sense of place and imagery.”

The Willametter Journal is similarly being scrutinized for what Wagner calls its “romance copy.” “These are the stories we tell when we’re talking about the wines,” he says. In this case, the label’s mentions of the Willamette Valley and its fanciful designation as being from “the territory of Oregon” have raised red flags for Oregon wine watchdogs.

The TTB will have to parse whether Wagner’s brands overstepped labeling regulations and determine exactly what information can be listed without violating AVA standards. Wagner is hoping the end result will be clearer guidelines about how winemakers can discuss the sources of their grapes. “We’re still awaiting the TTB’s thoughts on this,” says Wagner. “We’ll work with whatever they tell us we can or can’t do.”—Shane English

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