The Theft of a Noun

I suppose there is probably no possibility that the term "Port" will be removed from the list of placenames that the U.S. and he European Union have agreed will not be used on products originating from the States. What a shame too, because this term, Port, really shouldn’t not be on such a list alongside the likes of "Burgundy", "Champagne", or Bordeaux.

I was reminded of this mistake made by America’s trade negotiators when I came across this article in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Alistair Bland of the Independent describes the salient point made by David Hopkins of Bridlewood Winery:

"Other regional names deserve protection, says winemaker David Hopkins
of Bridlewood Winery near Los Olivos. Burgundy, for example, is a
recognizable name that describes not so much a wine style as it
describes its exclusive place of origin.But port, he argues, is a winemaker’s style that can be and is made
virtually anywhere. Moreover, fortified red dessert wines, regardless
of where they were made, depend upon the term “port” as a crucial point
of marketing leverage."

It would be one thing to protect the term "Oporto". But stopping all others from using a term that is descriptive of character, rather than descriptive of origin, is really nothing more than the theft of a noun when the concern should be with proper nouns.

The agreement on placements between the EU and the U.S. allows those who used the noun "Port" on their bottles prior to the agreement to continue to use them. This is at least a head fake toward reason and commonsense.

International trade agreements are tricky business I presume. They are the ultimate exercise of the pursuit of self interest. There at least should be commonsense standards applied or protected when these agreements are negotiated.

For an opposite view of this issue, see the Center For Wine Origins.

31 Responses

  1. Arthur - September 5, 2008

    I thought that like “Champagne”, “Port” was removed from the American wine style lexicon as a result of the 2005 (?) US-EU wine accord…
    In either case, I have to agree with the removal of placenemes from US wine labels.
    My hope is it will push the country’s wine industry (and lovers) towards some better appellation and labelling solution.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - September 5, 2008

    The style of fortified wine produced in Oporto uses specific grape varieties and a specific process. The fact that the English language bastardized Oporto into Port does not negate that, barring the forgeries, for quite a long time Port wines were produced in the prescribed style of the Portuguese at Oporto.
    It’s no different from Sherry, which can be produced only with the help of a specific flor.
    I don’t see your point at all.

  3. Ryan - September 5, 2008

    Port should be protected. It’s a style that is often mistaken as having something to do with the dessert wines from California and Australia. They make nice enough dessert wines, but they have nothing to do with Port wine.

  4. Morton Leslie - September 5, 2008

    I think it’s important that the EU get this problem worked out as soon as possible, so that we do not have this worldwide problem of people buying domestic sweet fortified wine thinking it is the real Port from Oporto, then discovering later it is not a product of Portugal after all. How could they tell except for perhaps reading the label. It’s so confusing.
    Once they get this accomplished the E.U. can get back to the serious business of banning sexist advertising.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - September 5, 2008

    You may joke about it, but having been in wine retail, I can tell you that many consumers get quite testy when wines from Europe called Chablis, Burgundy, Port, et al, come with price tags three times the size of California Chablis, Burgundy, Port, et al.
    If consumers were to know the difference, the label would not be the reason behind it. As far as they are concerned, it’s the Europeans who are stealing names and charging too much for it.
    You have get out more, and I don’t mean to your local winery 😉

  6. Tom Wark - September 5, 2008

    “Port should be protected. It’s a style that is often mistaken as having something to do with the dessert wines from California and Australia. They make nice enough dessert wines, but they have nothing to do with Port wine.”
    I disagree. CA, and AUS make incredibly good, long lived wines that are made in nearly an identical way to port. When people buy “Port” they have an expectation of what they will find. When they buy “Oporto” they also know what they are getting AND where it is coming from.

  7. Andy Velebil - September 5, 2008

    I disagree. Please tell me why Port should not be along side other great regions. Please tell me what is different between them. Bourdeaux refers to a region, so does Burgundy, so does Napa, and so on.
    Port is, and should be, only for fortified wines from the demarcated region of Portugal. Port has been a product of Portugal for over 300 years. It has one of the oldest demarcated regions in the world. The oldest Port producer (Kopke) was founded in 1638, that was 370 years ago. Portugal has been doing it longer than the US has been a country, so your theory is hog-wash in my book. Why shouldn’t the term “Port” be restricted.
    We do so with Champagne, Burgundy, etc. What makes them so special? Many countries use the same grapes, barrels, etc that prodcuers in Burgundy, Bordeaux, etc. use and yet those terms are restricted…and so should the term Port.
    I don’t understand how you can say it’s ok for this region, but not for that region.

  8. David McDuff - September 5, 2008

    Oporto = Port
    Jerez = Sherry
    Bourgogne = Burgundy
    It’s just a coincidence of linguistics that Champagne and Chablis entered the English lexicon without mutation.
    Port is a place name just as is Champagne, with just as strong a claim to sole, rightful ownership of use of its name in the world of wine.
    Mr. Hopkins’ argument (I’m sure he’s not alone) for “port” as nothing more than a stylistic term is simply an abuse of semantics for commercial convenience.

  9. Strappo - September 5, 2008

    Port is the centuries-old name for the type of wine that is made in Porto (the real Portuguese version of the name). It’s made in a certain way from certain varieties of grapes that, I am sure, are not widely found in Australia, California or anywhere else. It’s disingenuous to argue that this is any different from the inaccurate and dishonest uses of the terms Chablis or Champagne. The situations are exactly parallel.

  10. Maitre T - September 5, 2008

    In France they make fortified wines in Banyuls that are not marketed using the name Port. In France, Port means fortified wine (red or white) from Portugal. Why can’t we show the same respect for both the consumer and the producers.
    Place names must be respected.

  11. Ryan - September 5, 2008

    “I disagree. CA, and AUS make incredibly good, long lived wines that are made in nearly an identical way to port. When people buy “Port” they have an expectation of what they will find. When they buy “Oporto” they also know what they are getting AND where it is coming from.”
    The “style” is Fortified. The Product is Port. I like Cali and Aussie Fortified wines, but they are not “Port/Oporto”.
    Why not take pride in Aussie Fortified Shiraz, and own it rather than piggie back on anothers name. If the wines are so good, then they can stand on their own.

  12. Thomas Pellechia - September 5, 2008

    Tom, Tom,
    Unlike a good Port, you are standing on weak legs with this opinion.
    Hey, Andy, Port isn’t in one of the oldest demarcations, if I remember correctly, the Douro is the oldest demarcation.

  13. Andy Velebil - September 5, 2008

    Although the Douro has long laid claim to the being the oldest demarcated region, in fact this is not true. There are 2 older regions…..
    “Very often the region will be mentioned as the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. This is however not correct. The authoritative Portuguese historian and director of the Museu do Douro Gaspar Martins Pereira says on page 47 of the IVDP book Port Wine of 2004 that two regions were earlier: Chianti in Tuscany in 1716 and Tokay in Hungary in 1737.”

  14. Glenn E. - September 5, 2008

    I disagree. Port comes from a demarcated region in Portugal and is made from a restricted list of grapes. It is no different than Chianti, Burgundy, Champagne, or Tokay and it deserves the same protections.
    The wines made elsewhere should either be called port-style wines (lowercase ‘p’) or fortified wines, because in fact that is all that they are. Some of them are quite good dessert wines, but their quality is irrelevant to the point. They are NOT Port.

  15. Tom Wark - September 5, 2008

    I’d have no problem with “Port-style” being the compromise.
    The thing is this: There is very little about white “burgundy” that makes it significantly different from Chardonnay produced in CA other than WHERE it is produced. While they have their own standards of production, these standards are not particularly unique. So we protect what is unique: the place.
    “Port” is a style of wine much more than it is a place identification. We know that if it has the world Port on it, it will be sweet and fortified. if it had the word “OPORTO” on the bottle then we’d know that this sweet, fortified wine came from Portugal. By placing “Port” off limits we are removing use of a characteristic term off limits rather than a place name off limits.
    It’s not as though the Portuguese invented fortified wine.

  16. Morton Leslie - September 5, 2008

    I guess I have to get out more, I always thought the name Port came from the direction you pass the decanter.

  17. Thomas Pellechia - September 5, 2008

    If the dates are correct, that would be true: the Douro demarcation began in 1755 and ended in 1761.
    With all this stuff, there always seems to be an argument in Europe. I saw a report that states Tokaij was demarcated in 1700, making it the oldest in the world.
    It’s like a tennis match without the love score…

  18. Andy Velebil - September 5, 2008

    1756 to be correct. But either way, Portugal was not the first.

  19. Matt - September 5, 2008

    In arguing against using the term “port” only because it is made in a certain style with certain varieties, would it be acceptable to make a fortified wine with the proper varieties, in the proper style, outside of Portugal? I know of a few vineyards in California that grow port varieties including Touriga nacional, Tinta cao, Tinta roriz, etc.
    I think that if “port” were reserved for Oporto wines, it would have to be because of place, and not style or varieties.

  20. Thomas Pellechia - September 5, 2008

    orry, Andy, but the riots that started it all were in 1755. In any event, you win–feel better 😉

  21. Thomas Pellechia - September 5, 2008

    Yes, Matt, it is mainly about place. Still, it’s more comprehensive than that.
    For instance, grapes grown in one “place” perform differently than the same grapes grown in another “place.” And the process in Oporto is rather specific, something I don’t think New World fortified wines are up against. I don’t know of any rules governing New World port vintage and style labeling, as they exist with the real deal and I’ll bet that a spirit fortification in the New World can be in any form and at any time in the process.

  22. Jack - September 5, 2008

    Tell that to the wineries in Friuli (and elsewhere) who’ve had the name Tocai Friulano taken away from them.

  23. ozzie - September 6, 2008

    To stop the confusion in the US market the first step should be to ban all fortified wines that have the word port or any variation thereof on the label. Then we can establish our own identity. As it is now Europe wants to punish us at the same time sell us their products.

  24. Morton Leslie - September 6, 2008

    Seems like everyone wants their name back. It’s like they’ve all become the Bishop of Norwich only with names, not port. (Do you know the bishop?) No one cared what we called it in the 19th century or for that matter after prohibition. It was only when people stopped drinking sweet fortified wines worried about their waistlines, perhaps, that producers of Vinho do Porto started to blame their problems on anyone but themselves. I visited Oporto in the 1970’s and brought several bottles of Ficklin. I was the guest of Taylors. They were great hosts, lunches at the Factory House, (where they drink dry Dao red and white and most pass on the sweet stuff after), and never a word about our use of the word. The reason was that we were spreading the consumption of a wine type that they made and they appreciated we were building their market. They were perfectly comfortable with a label that said American Port or Australian Port or California Port. They were gentlemen.
    Taking back the word for wine makes as much sense as taking back the name for the place we park our boats or the side of the boat we kept towards the harbor. One might argue there would be no such thing as port if not for the English. But hell, I say give them their name back. They will find that still no one will drink their wine. I have an unopened case of ‘67 Taylor Vargellas and the reason it is unopened is that I have cases of port whose sole purpose seems to extract lead from my Baccarat decanters.
    Here’s my plan. We take up our own name like Starboard…no, we can’t do that, Andy Q. has it locked up. Okay, we call our wine Fort. Short for Fortified (or f**k Portugal). Andy has his Starboard Fort, we see Ficklin Fort, and Prager Fort. We let about five years pass and promote the hell out of Fort, maybe we get some government assistance in marketing, particularly overseas. Then when everyone knows what Fort is, we consumers start to complain that we are confused. Why doesn’t everything that is red or white , fortified and sweet say Fort? To avoid confusion we insist that anything coming into the U.S. have the American word for that wine type. They can still say Vinho do Porto or even Port, but they also have to put the word Fort prominently on the labels. We give it a decade, and as the word Fort takes over, we switch back and prohibit anyone from outside the U.S. from using the word Fort. What goes around, comes around.

  25. Thomas Pellechia - September 6, 2008

    You mix “names” with “brands.” Haven’t you ever heard what happened to Xerox and other brands that allowed their names wide use?
    But I grant you: no one should have to live by the name of a place and/or process.
    I am sure every Napa, Sonoma, Finger Lakes, et al, wine producer would throw a party the day that French, Italian, German, et al, wine producers release wines named Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux) Sonoma Sangiovese (Toscana), Finger Lakes Riesling (Mosel).
    Of course, the Europeans would mostly not want to do that–why bastardize their own brand identity, and why purloin the name of some other place to tout your own expertise?
    Fact of the matter is: the theft of wine place names began in the US when the domestic wine industry was pawning off crap and needed some brand recognition help, which is the whole point. If you allow recognized quality to be freely mixed in with recognized plonk, you have given over your brand name–not much percentage in even having a name under those circumstances.
    You are talking egalitarian–the wine industry in Europe is talking commercial identity.

  26. Morton Leslie - September 6, 2008

    Port long ago became a generic term for sweet fortified red wine around the world. Chablis and Burgundy are different because they never became generic for a specific wine type. Taking back port makes as much sense as Italians asking for “wine” back. (Don’t get any ideas, Piero) Vinho do Porto, and Oporto work just fine for them. They should just get over it.
    I made a “pipe of port” from a Rutherford vineyard for my son two decades ago in the year he was born. I always refer to it as his “port” (when I steal some of it.) I don’t think I intended to mislead him or any others into thinking I made him Vinho do Porto. Had I made him a Chardonnay and called it Chablis, or a Pinot and called it Burgundy, well that would be misleading.

  27. Thomas Pellechia - September 6, 2008

    Even though it was the primary reason for name thefts, intent is not the only issue.
    Beyond it being fortified wine, the word “port” in America has no meaning. Have you ever tasted that American “port” that comes in pint bottles?
    You say it is an identified process. Not in the USA. You can produce it however you want, wherever you want, with whatever grapes you want, and still call it “port,” provided you fortify it to up to 20% alc.
    Where’s the identity?
    Anyway, where did you get the idea that chablis and burgundy never became generic for a specific wine type? The wine type was plonk, and the names were used to make believe that it wasn’t.

  28. Vintuba - September 6, 2008

    I have to agree that the Term Port or port should be protected, look at the case of Champagne it is not different. Americans used the term champagne to describe any sparkling wine made either in the style of Champagne or not, using then same grapes or not, in short they bastardized the name. Port is not different, Australian and American producers bastardized this name for any white or red wine fortified to stop fermentation and lock in residual sugar, they used it to capitalize on the reputation of Port from Portugal just like Gallo used Chablis or “Hardy Burgundy” decades ago to help sell their jug wines. Prager, Ficklin et al will get over it and and move on to much success just like Mumm Napa, Chandon, Schramsberg, and others have done.
    The fact is Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Napa, Bordeaux, Limoux, Loire, Alsace, Mosel, Madeira and YES PORT are about place and should be protected regardless if wines from other regions are made in similar styles using similar grapes.
    We need to get over the sour grapes of losing the name and use some good old american ingenuity in coming up with an alternate solution.
    Port has a right to have its name back! As did Chablis, Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, etc.
    Let’s do the right thing less we have no firm footing in asking the EU to help us protect our great wine regions such as Napa, Sonoma, Willamette Valley etc…

  29. Dylan - September 7, 2008

    I agree with Vintuba’s above comment. Port is a region and I would be interested to see those US-side creating “port-style” wines create their own identity. It’s flattering to have the style adopted by makers outside the region, but there should also be pride in the distinction.
    Perhaps the compromise would be to call them “Port Style,” instead of port. This at least allows for a connection to the style without using the region’s identity.

  30. Winemaker from Virginia - September 8, 2008

    We will never create brand awareness with a Port-style wine, or for any other wine that shares a common place/style name. Why? Because in this country, we make wine however we want, from whichever grapes we want, and from grapes grown any which way. Take the same grapes and give them to two different wineries and you will end up with two different products. Place-names work in Europe because there are fewer variables in the process and “place” becomes a more important parameter. Unless we gravitate towards this systems (which will never happen in the USA) then standardized names are pointless.

  31. Thomas Pellechia - September 8, 2008

    I agree with you, Virginia Winemaker, but does that mean USA producers should or shouldn’t use European brand or place names?

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