Vineyard & Winery Management

March/April 2013

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END POST TYLER COLMAN Give it Up for Champagne 118 V I N EYARD & WINERY MANAGEMENT | Legally, existing domestic producers are allowed to use the term, after a 2006 bilateral accord between the European Union and the United States neglected to disallow it. The Champenoise were quite easily able to put the kibosh on other EU countries or regions using "Champagne" – giving rise to terms such as sekt, cava and crémant. Even outside the EU, countries such as Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Canada (in 2014) have acceded, dropping usage of "Champagne" from their labels. Even China offers the term more legal protection for the intellectual property of Champagne than the U.S. does. Absent a legal mandate to change their ways, there are two possible ways that the remaining U.S. producers who label their wines as "Champagne" – among them Korbel, Totts and André – could be made to sing a different tune. The most likely way is for California's Wine Institute to favor such a change. E. & J. Gallo and Constellation Brands carry weight with the Wine Institute, and they are the two largest producers of domestic sparkling wine. They (particularly Constellation) have many other wines that come from specific places, so why not apply the same pride of place to domestic sparklers? In fact, Constellation launched a new sparkling wine without using "Champagne" on the label, instead relying on the Woodbridge brand to carry it. Gallo's Barefoot brand surely holds more sway on the buyer than "Pinot Grigio Sparkling Champagne California" (yes, this actually appears on the labels). The other possibility is that producers adopt the golden rule. Hanging on to someone else's regional term seems something only for a country just starting out in wine pro- Mar - Apr 2013 duction. Veteran producers could be called out, shamed, scorned or encouraged to take the moral high ground and drop "Champagne" from their labels. Domestic wine (and food) producers have fought so that place names have meaning, and they presumably wouldn't want their names used for low-end wines overseas. Do unto others and all that. U.S. wine regions have sought and achieved legal protection for their place names. Champagne is arguably the most powerful place name in wine, so the time has come for our sparkling wine producers to disentangle their brand identities from the term, and find one they can proudly stand behind. Come on, marketing geniuses! This is the country that can sell tasteless lager by the truckload, thanks largely to advertising. So let's set a fraction of those minds loose on coming up with a good name for American sparkling wine. The British, facing the same problem with their nascent sparkling wine industry, have suggested "Britagne," pronounced like Britannia. For us, maybe it's "California Bubbles," or given our collective love of acronyms, "CSW" (California Sparkling Wine)? Light up social media to scour for ideas. And after renaming the category, bubbly producers can set about making it something to be proud of in the glass. (Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Vineyard & Winery Management.) lad in a fur coat, m u s i c m o g u l P. Diddy simultaneously dumped out two bottles of ultra-expensive Cristal Champagne on stage. As a display of excess, it wouldn't have had quite the same effect if he had dumped California Korbel. Similarly, to conjure up images of luxury by saying "sparkling wine and caviar" – rather than "Champagne and caviar" – seems wanting. To discuss a "sparkling wine lifestyle" seems almost to imply cutbacks in a recessionary time. Champagne connotes celebration, excess, the good life. So it's understandable that wine producers all over the world have tried to hitch their bubblies to the powerful, evocative, aspirational term "Champagne." In fact, about half the sparkling wine sold in America has the term "Champagne" on the label. The catch: It's "California Champagne," with "California" in tiny font and "Champagne" in bold. Given the lure (and presumed economic boost) of the term, it's easy to understand why domestic producers use it. But they shouldn't. While the connotation of Champagne is catnip to the marketing department, the denotation of Champagne is something else, a region and a method of another country. It's only a handful of producers who continue to label their bubbly thusly, their wines fetching less than $15 in the marketplace. The term "Champagne" does not appear on sparklers from Oregon and Washington. And quality-oriented producers from California eschew the term. Napa Valley's Schramsberg, for one, ceased using "Champagne" on its labels in 1997. Tyler Colman, author of the wine blog Dr. Vino, teaches wine classes at New York University and the University of Chicago, and wrote the book "Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink." Comments? Please e-mail us at w w w. v w m m e d i a . c o m

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