French Fight Epic Wine Battle in DC–Berets Fly

French Wine SnobsMy guess is that if you have to work as a lobbyist in Washington, DC, you could do a whole lot worse than work for the Champagne Bureau USA. What’s not to like about Champagne. It’s not like these guys ascend Capital Hill and ask gun advocates to ban guns. It’s not like they look lawmakers in the face and demand their multi-billion dollar banking clients be exempted from commonsense laws. No. they merely ask that the term “Champagne” be relegated for use on bottles of wine that originate in Champagne.

Their focus on this simple message means they rarely have the opportunity to be in the spotlight.

So, I’m guessing that when the folks at the Champagne Bureau USA saw the menu for the upcoming lunch following President Obama’s second Inaugural released yesterday by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, they saw the kind of opportunity that rarely comes their way; particularly when they saw what was being served as the third course:

“Third Course: Hudson Valley Apple Pie, Sour Cream Ice Cream, Aged Cheese and Honey; Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, Calif.

It’s the wine that caught their wine and drove them to pounce.

Korbel is one of the few brand holders in the U.S. that was allowed to continue to use the term “Champagne” on their labels after an agreement was signed by the U.S. and E.U. on the issue of “semi-generic” names associated with wine. The agreement said that use of the semi-generic names could no longer be used on labels. “Champagne” was among those names. However, Korbel, since they had used the term for decades, was grandfathered in when the agreement was signed in 2006.

So what’s the problem? Korbel’s wine is labeled in a perfectly legal way. The problem is that the Korbelword “California” should have been placed BEFORE the world “Champagne”, not after it, according to the 2006 agreement. The words are correctly ordered on the label. However, not on the menu.

Mon Dieu!!

So you can see why the head of the Champagne Bureau, Sam Heitner, was forced to leap into action and….write a letter. Additionally, the busy Mr. Heitner spoke to the media about the terribly indignity visited upon Champagne as a result of the wording switcheroo on the menu, telling The Hill:

“U.S. law clearly states that the full name of the wine label must include where it comes from Under the law, the label for this wine would state ‘California Champagne. While we do not support this practice, it is U.S. law – and we would urge the inaugural committee to follow that law and not state the sparkling wine being served is Champagne. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”

Mais, Bien Sur!!

Yesterday will mark the most important day of the year for Champagne Bureau. They will in days to come recall that it was on January 9th they were able to use a typo on a menu for a lunch to get their name in the paper. Well done, Champagne Bureau!!

Another prize the Champagne Bureau can claim is having overshadowed the real winners when it comes to the Inaugural Lunch: New York Wine, which will provide the wines for the first two courses. Again, well done, Champagne Bureau!!

13 Responses

  1. Michael De Loach - January 10, 2013

    This reminds me of one of my favorite “barets fly” moments. Half a dozen years ago a gathering of Frenchmen were protesting low wine prices (yes, you are reading correctly) in France by pouring bottles of wine into a street gutter. According to news accounts, the riot was quashed by police immediately after “one of the protesters lit a policeman’s scooter on fire.” It’s quite a mental image, non monsieur?

  2. Fredric Koeppel - January 10, 2013

    what’s really sad about this embroglio is that the White House wine person did not choose an example of some of the finest sparkling wine of which California is capable, and many of them made by producers owned wholly or partially by French companies. Why does Korbel have such a lock on Washington?

  3. Michael Kaiser - January 11, 2013

    They should have stayed with the NY theme and picked a Wollfer or Sparkling Pointe sparkling wine from Long Island or a Chateau Frank from the Finger Lakes. Although then they might have gotten pissed about the use of Chateau.

  4. Tom Wark - January 11, 2013


    It appears that Schumer only has so much pull. On the other hand, where were my Senators from CA? Where were OR And WA and TX Senators??

    • Michael Kaiser - January 11, 2013


      I am not really sure how they got both NY wines on the menu. They are both really good wines, but it might have been nice to see a wine from another state on there as well.

      • Michael Kaiser - January 11, 2013

        OK, I do know how they ended up on the menu, but again, it would have been nice to see one other state represented.

  5. Tom - January 11, 2013

    Who knew “The Hill” was such an easy mark! When I worked in environmental advocacy it was a tough sell to get anything written about the environment. But throw a little fluff (or bubbles) their way and they’re all over it.

  6. Joe Herrig - January 11, 2013

    I knew I didn’t like this administration…

  7. Tracy Cervellone - January 11, 2013

    Speaks volumes about the big money tie in to Korbel’s parent company, and the complete wine ignorance of decison makers very high up in the White House food chain. Laughable, especially given the quality of some very high profile sparkling wine producers that have towed the EU/French legal wine labelling line for decades. Amusing in a way, if it weren’t so pathetic. And frankly illegal. Grandfathered labels my ass.

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  10. Christian G.E. Schiller - January 14, 2013

    Korbel is actually an American Champagne with German roots. German Wine Makers in the World: The Korbel Brothers from Bohemia Introduced “Champagne” to the US

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