It may be "George Washington's Birthplace," but federal officials say they're not sure they can swallow that appellation as a name for wine from the 16 vineyards in Virginia's Northern Neck.

Carl F. Flemer Jr., owner of Ingleside Plantation Vineyards in Westmoreland County, is hoping otherwise. He has put forth a spirited argument to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, asking it to designate five counties as a vinicultural area named "George Washington Birthplace."

That would allow "George Washington Birthplace" to be used on the wine from Westmoreland, King George, Richmond, Northumberland and Lancaster counties.

Such designations must have the bureau's approval and are sought by wine growers to help in marketing. A few years ago, wine producers and politicians from Virginia and California clashed over the use of the "Shenandoah Valley" designation on their labels. The federal agency eventually decided to let both use the designation, although the California wine producers had to add California to the label.

In the latest case, Flemer's opposition is not from another state, but from agency officials who have issued a proposed rule that would require the wine to be labeled "Northern Neck."

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials acknowledge that George Washington indeed was born in Westmoreland County, and that a postal station located there uses the postmark: "Washington Birthplace, Va. 22575."

But the agency notes that the area also was the birthplace of two other presidents, James Madison and James Monroe, as well as other prominent Americans. Thus, says the agency, only Wakefield Farm on Pope's Creek in Westmoreland County can truly be identified as Washington's birthplace, and calling the entire five-county peninsula his "birthplace" would be misleading.

Besides, says the agency, those five counties already have a name. They are known as the Northern Neck.

"Although it is a fact that one of the prominent historic sites on the Northern Neck is George Washington's birthplace at Wakefield (538 acres), the petitioned area of land (590,080 acres) is historically recognized by maps, books, local landmarks, etc., as the Northern Neck," said the proposed rule from the agency. It is taking comments until Nov. 1 before making a final decision.

Flemer countered that while the name Northern Neck is well known in Virginia, nobody in the rest of the nation has heard of it.