The Indians named it, George Washington surveyed it, and now, some Virginians claim, California are trying to filch is good name.
Wine makers in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a 110-mile-long vale celebrated in song, Civil War lore and travel borchures, are popping their corks over winemakers in another Shenandoah Valley 3,000 miles away in California.Those vintners have stirred the wrath of Virginia grape growers by asking the federal government to grant them exclusive rights to the words "Shenandoah Valley" on their wine bottles.
"The Californians surely must have a wealth of their own historic names to use, without trying to preempt one of the proudest, most treasured names in all Virginia," fumes U.S. Rep. J. Kenneth Robinson, a Republican who represents most of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
He characterizes the West Coast action as "an astonishing ploy by some grape growers in an obscure area of California" and has appealed to Virginians, who are attempting to develop their own wine industry, to fight the move.
But Ken Deaver, a California vineyard owner and representative for the grape growers in the Golden State's 10,000-acre Shenandoah Valley, is adamant about the claim. He says his valley may be less rich in history than Virginia's but for the past 100 years his has been more famous for grapes.
"We are not trying to take anything away from the Virginia Shenandoah Valley area," asserts Deaver. His family has grown wine grapes in the California valley 40 miles east of Sacremento since 1850, one year before it was named by some Virginians who said it reminded them of home.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which oversees the nation's wine industry, provoked the dispute when it revised its regulations two years ago to require wine makers to be more precise about the origins of their vintages. By 1983, only one area of the country will be able to use "Shenandoah Valley" on its labels and advertising.
"We realize that this issue is very controversial, but we are obligated to go forward and make a decision based on the facts presented," said Stephen E. Higgins, the bureau's deputy director, in a letter to Robinson.
Tom Minton, another bureau official, said he didn't know when -- or if -- the agency can fully resolve the issue. "If they both demand Shenandoah Valley, I don't know what would happen," he said.
What has already happened is that two wine makers, Shenandoah Vineyards of Edinburg, Va., and a Shenandoah Vineyards of Plymouth, Calif., are facing the loss of a brand that each established four years ago.
"I didn't know another Shenandoah Valley existed," says James Randel, a New Jersey utility executive who with his wife, Emma, converted a Virginia family farm into a vineyard in 1977. "When I found out they [the Californians] had applied for [the Shenandoah designation] I was somewhat upset."
The Shenandoah Vineyards in California is owned and operated by Leon and Shirley Sobon and family. Their winery, one of 10 in the Shenandoah Valley there, produces 6,000 gallons a year. While the 10,000 gallons produced by Virginia's Shenandoah Vineyards are not marketed outside the state, the Sobons ship their wine to more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia.
The issue of who can sell Shenandoah wine in Washington is one of the points that Randel says he finds most troublesome. "But we're both wine people and I would hope we can work this thing out."
If some wine growers are trying to sound conciliatory, many Virginians aren't. Their letters to the federal government over the issue read like a call to arms.
"Stop the people in California from bastardizing a proud and honorable name," wrote William Foster of Harrisonburg.
"I suggest that you send those people a man with the western portion of Virginia circled prominently, and a free ticket to the James Stewart movie 'Shenandoah'," wrote Winchester's Lulu M. Williams.
The Shenandoah file also contains a letter from Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton that calls the state's Shenandoah Valley "a place of cherished traditions that live in the minds and hearts of people all over the world."
But the ultimate broadside against the Californians may have been delivered by Robinson in a newsletter to his constituents.
"I'm at a loss to explain it," he wrote, "other than to point out that this fiddling around with our Virginia-owned title originated in an area situated north and west of Fiddletown, California."