Thu 17 Apr 2008
A bulletin recently published by the Office of Champagne and the Center for Wine Origins carries the title — or “hed,” as we call it in the Worshipful Company of Ink-Stain’d Wretches — “Poll Shows Majority of U.S. Wine Purchasers Against Misleading Labels.”
One would think that this issue would fall into the category of “It Goes Without Mention.” I mean, isn’t this rather like saying “Poll Shows Majority of Major League Baseball Players Against Random Drug Testing” or “Poll Shows Majority of Vegans Against Beating Baby Seals to Death”?
Anyway, according to the report, “79% agree that consumers deserve protection from deceptive claims on food and beverage labels.” Only 63 percent, however, would “support a law prohibiting misleading labels because they believe it is the best way to protect the names of wine regions around the world, including domestic names such as Napa Valley and Sonoma County.” (I love how pollsters word their questions.) You have to wonder who the 21 percent are who do not agree that consumers deserve protection from deceptive claims on food and beverage labels or the 37 percent who would not support a law prohibiting misleading labels because they believe it is the best way to protect the names of wine regions around the world etc etc. What are they feeding their children?
The Center for Wine Origins is based in Washington D.C. Financed by the European Union and the governments of France, Spain and Portugal, the CWO’s purpose is to lobby on behalf of the regions of Champagne, Sherry and Port against misuse of those widely-known terms, meaning that only products made in those regions should be called Champagne or Port or Sherry. How serious is the problem? Says the CWO: “47% of the U.S. sparkling wine market is dominated by products mislabeled ‘champagne.’” And: “4 out of every 5 bottles of ‘Sherry’ sold in our country are not products of Jerez, Spain.”
Now either the semantics or the logic is a little fuzzy here. If “47% of the U.S. sparkling wine market is dominated by products mislabeled ‘champagne,’” than 53 percent of the products are not mislabeled champagne, right? So actually the U.S. sparkling wine market is not dominated by mislabeled labels. Or am I missing the point?
But let’s get to the real point. Sparkling wine made anywhere in the world other than Champagne should not be labeled as such, and the same principle applies to Port and Sherry, as well as Chianti, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Brunello di Montalcino, Rioja and any other wine named after and associated with a definite place; those place names evoke a sense of history, tradition, technique and style that are inseparable from those places. In 2006, after years of negotiating with the EU, the United States agreed that no new labels of sparkling wine produced within our borders could use the term Champagne. The truth is that reputable producers of traditionally-made (that is in the Champagne manner of second fermentation in the bottle) sparkling wine in California, Oregon, Washington and other states had long ago abandoned the use of the name.
But large producers of bulk sparkling wines, such as E.& J. Gallo, Korbel and Cook’s, were grandfathered into the deal, so that millions of gallons of sparkling wines made in tanks and often selling for as little as $4 a bottle, as with Gallo’s Andre Champagne — the best-selling brand of sparkling wine in the country — were allowed to use the term.
By the way, urbandictionary.com lists (lower case) “andre champagne” as a verb meaning to pop open a bottle of sparkling wine, hit a girl in the eye with the cork and douse her with the foaming beverage, as in “Hey, dude, let’s andre champagne those babes!” I have simply got to get out more.
All right, let’s go ahead and say that it’s unfair that Gallo and Korbel and Cook’s are allowed to use “champagne” on their labels in defiance of the wishes of the EU and the ancient houses of Champagne. But before the CWO gets too much in a twitter, let’s remember that the person who is suddenly conscience-stricken and decides not to fling down four georges for his Andre Champagne because it is mislabled is not going to turn around and drop 50 big ones on a bottle of Pol Roger. It’s a matter of price and perspective. Pol Roger and Taittinger and Roederer and all the other venerable Champagne houses are just not going to capture the Andre market, no matter how the labels look or how they are worded.
On the other hand, a guy could be so bitter nowadays that even a bottle of Andre might look pretty good.