Keep The Port, Lose the Champagne

I think we can all agree that wine labels should not misrepresent what’s in the bottle by printing place names and appellations on them when none of the wine in the bottle came from that place or appellation.

This is the position of The Center For Wine Origins, an organization begun by the vintners in Champagne, Portugal and Jerez, takes and promotes.

In fact, just today they released a statement concerning the Federal Governments most recent pronouncements on the issue of use of semi-generic names on food packaging. The Center liked the fact that in the most recent legislation concerning this issue the U.S. affirmed it’s earlier agreement with the European Union to prevent use of European place names on American wines.

The 16 names that can no longer be placed on American wines are:

Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Claret, Haut Sauterne, Hock, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Retsina, Rhine, Tokay, Sherry.

In applauding the recent legislation that put into affect the results of the U.S./EU wine accords, the Center For Wine Origins did offer the backhand as well:

"However, the progress is extremely limited, and much more needs to be
done. American consumers know that location has a direct impact on the
quality and character of the wine in the bottle, and they use that
information to make their purchasing decisions. Therefore, place names
need to be clear and protected to better inform consumers about the
true source of their wines – – not just on future labels, but on those
that already exist as well."

In case it’s unclear, the Center for Wine Origins is pissed that the terms "Champagne" ands "Port" may still be used on American wines if they existed prior to the recent Accords. What that means is a HUGE amount of the wine sold in the U.S. that is labeled "champagne" is in fact NOT from champagne. The same can be said for the use of the world "Port".

The Center for Wine Orignins as well as Europeans will continue to push for the complete banning of the 16 terms above, as well as others. But will American firms like Korbel ever agree to stop using the term "Champagne" to describe their sparkling wine?

I don’t think so.

"MILITANT" is the  best way to describe Korbel’s position that the term "champagne" is a generic one that they should be allowed to use. It’s sort of  a shame they take this position. They don’t need to. Nor do they need to even use the term Champagne. Americans could easily understand the terms "sparkling wine" or "Brut" to mean this is a wine that has bubbles just like those from Champagne. I’ll grant that by removing the word "Champagne" from their vocabulary, Korbel would be giving up an advantage in the market place. Valid or not, Champagne is considered around the world to be the best form of Sparkling wine.

Firms that use the term "Champagne" on wines that do not originate from that region of France are, in my opinion, ripping off the equity real Champagne producers have built for their appellation after centuries of hard work. We can be hopeful that in the future the U.S. agrees to make changes to their Accords with the EU that will lead to the outlawing of the term Champagne on any American Sparkling wines, whether they’ve used them in the past or not.

Now, those folks using the term "Port" have a much bigger problem on their hands. Like "Champagne", the term "Port" can not be used on new wines of this type while those using it before the Wine Accords earlier this year may still use it.

What would you call a Zinfandel Port if you could not use the term "Port"? I suppose you could go withPort_1
"Fortified Zinfandel". There’s not much of a ring to that is there? How about "Tawny"? Zinfandel Tawny. Better, but not truly discriptive.

In the end I think their is a much better case to be made that "Port" is a generic term. In the first place the term "Portugal" is not being used. I’d also be surprised to learn that the term "Port" is what this style of wine originally brought out of Portugal by the English actually equates to a place name or appellation at all. However, I’d be open to hearing arguments either way.

The Center for Wine Origins recently commissioned a poll on the issue of American’s feelings about and relationship to appellations and place names on wine. The results support their arguments and don’t seem too surprising:

–80 percent want policymakers to correct the problem of misleading
wine labels, which the current tax package only addresses partially

— 85 percent believe that the region or location where a wine
comes from is an important factor in their decision to buy a particular
bottle of wine.

— 81 percent agree that wines should only be allowed to use a
specific geographic location on their labels if they are actually made
in that location.

   — 78 percent agree that the region or location from which  wine comes is extremely important in determining its quality.

Though I’ve not seen the questions they asked of the survey-takers I’d have a hard time imagining any serious questions that produced opposite results. The fact is this is a fairness issue for anyone who isn’t making money off using someone else’s place name.

14 Responses

  1. Ken - December 13, 2006

    Homer Simpson once famously said of a disappointing hotdog he was eating, “I can’t taste the pig anus!” Can we not say the same of Korbel? Though American sparklers have made great strides who among us does not remember the night sweats, the thirst for death, back in our college days when such swill made its way into our stomachs? God, though young and stupid, I learned a lesson to stay away. For those of us who now drink Champagne, equisite, ravishing Champagne, there is simply no substitute. Duh. Yet, to be fair, I hear keen efforts are underway in higher latitudes: Oregon seems to be doing well. There are good tidings with respect to Ecosse, for example. And I am participating in a project in Wa. State, more about later. But please, end the nomenclature charade, not to mention the embarrassing inferiority complex American producers of sparklers clearly feel. Find a new promotional term or label. ‘New World Sparkler’ comes to mind.
    Of course, France produces dull Champagne as well: Moet, Henriot, Pol Roger, Veuve Cliquoit, et. al., Their intro wines are as boring as can be. And they deserve to be humbled. But New World sparklers cannot do it if they insist on sharing shelf space with the ‘real’ thing.

  2. Jerry Murray - December 13, 2006

    I am glad to see you take on such an important topic, I have noticed you have a fever for matters of geography and wine. I fear though that your blog will fall on deaf ears ( or eyes I suppose ). Your readers, though from a broad spectrum, are already somewhat wine savy and see the use of names like port and sherry and most obviously champagne as pure marketing gimmick. My advice to anyone interested in learning about ‘real’ wine ( I won’t elaborate here ) should turn and run when they see such misleading marketing. It is pure snake oil and serves as a substitute for actually producing a quality product. It is just a shame that millions of unsuspecting people will have to wade through a sea of market driven, factory produced crap to get to the ‘true’ wines who’s names have become iconic. Sadder still is that most will never make it to the promised land of honest wines that promote and reflect thier home.

  3. Fredric Koeppel - December 14, 2006

    We have to sympathize with the wine origin people; these are real issues in the realm of wine authenticity and need to be addressed, though I wonder if they need to go to the barricades over word like “hock” and “claret,” which are, in fact, British terms for German wines (derived from Hockheimer) and Bordeaux. When was the last time you saw someone “misuse” hock on a label. And instead of going after “port,” they should stand watch over “porto,” which is, after all, the term that appears on bottles of “port” made in Oporto, Portugal. Zinfandel Port, yes; Zinfandel Porto, no. Of course none of this is as simple as we would wish it to be.

  4. Michael - December 14, 2006

    Maybe I’m forgetting my history here, but isn’t Claret just a bogus British name for red wine typically referring to bordeaux blends? Why in the world does Claret make it onto the list of “protected palces”? Champagne I get, Port I get (I never liked that Americans got away with this), Sherry and Claret I don’t get. These are just names for the style of wine. No more descriptive really than red or white.

  5. eljefe - December 14, 2006

    hi Tom – a clarification may be in order…
    This is not new news really. What is news is that Congress is now moving to set in stone what had already been agreed to in treaty negotiations, and what was already being enforced by the TTB.
    This rule has effectively been in place for US wine producers since last March. That is the cutoff for being grandfathered in. Any label approvals before that date were allowed to use Port, etc. After that date, you COULD use Port, etc. but you ran the risk of having approval revoked after Congress acted on the treaty.
    So a Korbel can continue using champagne on their label since they are grandfathered in. But as soon as they require a new label approval for that wine, ‘champagne’ will no longer be grandfathered. Reasons for requiring a new approval can range from changing the whole design, to changing the back label copy, or even just a zip code…
    We learned all this last Spring when we had a label design denied for our fortified wine made from Touriga Nacional grapes. We decided to call it “Pour’t”.
    I have an idea for a sparkling wine name, but I think I will save that for a future blog post…

  6. Mark Finley - December 14, 2006

    Maybe another requirement down the road to ease the “grandfathered” ones out is to require the location identifier to be adjacent to and in the same exact font as the excluded term i.e. “California Port”, etc.

  7. eljefe - December 14, 2006

    hi Mark – that doesn’t fly – “Port” is seen as branding. We tried “Calaveras County Port”, but no go.

  8. Jan Sokoly - December 14, 2006

    I’m glad to see Tokay listed. There’s just one and only Tokaji/Tokaj spreading from north-eastern Hungary to south-eastern Slovakia. Cheers…

  9. winehiker - December 14, 2006

    That’s quite an Opus on a Conundrum. After a few decades of marketing distortion, we in America tend to view wine descriptors as factors of branding cachet rather than location of origin. We tend to think it IS champagne, but it’s not – it’s really FROM Champagne. Or it’s not. Europeans don’t have this issue, but they also had a few centuries with which to establish a precedent; they also weren’t savagely misled for years by backroom “sensation transference” labeling and media saturation developed by marketing hacks who focused on the sizzle, not the steak. Getting around that culturally disparate mindset and evolving toward location-inspired trade names is the real difficulty that we as Americans seem to face. It’s just that the cat’s been out of the bag so long.

  10. John Lopresti - December 15, 2006

    We could drift away into banning ungrandfathered “French” sourdough bread, and “Lima” beans, though perhaps there are better combinations.
    I think what these regs do is create a well deserved pedestal for some imports for which they have struggled for decades, some of the wins are moot already as styles changed during the past twenty years while the litigation proceeded.
    Another outcome is a marketing wedge for some pretty ho-hum American products, although some pretty good wine products will enjoy a well deserved continuity of brand recognition based on grand-paternity.
    Burgundy: I would regret this loss for new American startups making pinot based wines, but we got Sideways and a lot of other much smarter publicity from US pinot noir wines that have won some competitions; adieu, but somewhat wistfully. Obviously we are confining this geographic name to exclude beaujolais; which, incidentally, is one of the gamay varieties overplanted and pleading to the EU for subsidies.
    Chablis: Well, who makes a French colombard blended with chenin blanc except a few enterprising individuals nowadays on the US’s shores; and these new wines are enjoying hand crafted names; ours is a young industry; and Americans love coining new words. I say let the French enjoy their ownership of this name.
    Champagne: We have an interesting expert commenting, above. I observe only folks in Dover are anticipating a little more climate change and the blossoming UK wine trade will start seeing chalky terroir white sparkling wine from Dover. Just you wait.
    Chianti: I give these folks credit for centuries of tradition. We already make some startling sangiovese and other blends, say, with a little barbera. IT and FR both are enduring sweeping decline in consumption of their own jugwines, with emphasis on quality wines as the true survivors; a good IT chanti is still a great buy. Bene, bene. Glad to return the name to the old country.
    Claret: I don’t know; to me this meant simply an Anglicized word for a bright red wine. But we have a lot of zesty new names for light table wine, and sufficient acreage age under 50 years to continue to have plenty of leeway to plan for some young, lightly colored reds. The French are welcome to reclaim their claret heritage.
    Haut Sauterne: I suppose this is like the split between Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley; if our ranch gets a certain microclimate going we may work on an AVA beyond upper Alexander Valley for those slopes, but I think we would work with neighbors to define a geographic zone closer to the uniformity AlexanderV provides than the exotic wooly variations in the wildlands of the Yorkville Highlands AVA several miles up the road. Besides, a few US wineries are using semillon and other components of sauternes well in originally named wines. I congratulate the sauternes for reclaiming their own piquant name for a potentially noble wine.
    Hock: I am unfamiliar with this except maybe as something labelled in the animal lable section; something German, or something with what folks used to call a punt; that was before CA winemakers admitted the malolactic was our companion and all the bottles here better have recurved bases instead of a flat glass floor.
    Madeira: Herein lies a tale better told by the affluent and well tasted sommelliers, to whom I defer. Maybe if someday the US plants some offshore islands we will reopen negotiations. Meanwhile we can hope to have a taste of a wonderful exotic madeira, and hope it is the genuine item, and not a cheap grandfathered immitation.
    Malaga: I had not know this is an actual wine product. Jerez is reasonably nearby; and Americans have taken to adding the flor process name on the labels. In fact, US labels are becoming very interesting items to read as they become more informative. For many years US wine marketers were worried about putting too much on a label; now it is becoming chic.
    Marsala: Here is a name I will miss, though not as a US product, though a granddad in our family made one, in good vintages. The US is getting adept at fortified wines and innovative names for them; IT may have its birthright back.
    Moselle: We could use more river identification from the Pacific NW; and we can let these delightful wines return to being identified as northern European wines.
    Port: I admit I am at a loss as to what to call this kind of wine. That was the problem the British had, as well, though what the Brits seemed to mean was simply the best most fortified Portugal had to offer; and it was very good.
    Retsina: I am glad the Greeks get to recapture this name; I doubt we will be adding pitch to our wines. Although in the days when blends in the US had a medicinal application, perhaps there were more retsina ethnic wines than I knew existed.
    Rhine: Again congratulations, like Moselle.
    Tokay: We already use blush for some product names, and there are several kinds of tokaj. We just need to import more of those excellent central European wines so we can compare them to our own products in the category. Even some table grapes with this name have begun to abandon it; the markets simply sell them in plastic wrappings with a number and a color, absolutely nameless. Well, they left us carignane, or is it carigan, depending on whose plot you are describing and what the proprietor calls the varietals. I could recommend an amazing OPR (“Old Plot Red”) I tasted recently, with, of all things, screwcap closure; but I think it was priced under $20. simply for the local market for those of us who know that winemaker easily sells well above that pricepoint; but it admitted it contained petta sira, carigan, and zinfandel; way to go.
    Sherry: This would be dessert wine. There are some amazing cooking sherries out there. I will miss this name; but let’s begin fabricating some titles of our own.
    See, it is easy once it has become a law. Good news, Tom.

  11. eljefe - December 15, 2006

    wow John – ever thought about your own blog? 🙂 That was a compliment.
    Agreed with everything. Port is a problem; we’ve solved it for ourselves but how many clever alternates are there?
    And what about (veal or chicken) Marsala?

  12. WineLog Blog - February 7, 2007

    Any P*rt in a Storm

    The subject today is new government rules

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  14. Chat - August 1, 2007

    I’d be interested in an updated GoogleAnalytics chart (may be two with about six weeks coverage), just to see if the effect did wear off after a while and also, did others link to your new name with the same link-text (allinurl:…). I hope you will publish a follow up.

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