Thursday, July 28, 2005

Geography vs. style

A meeting took place in Napa Tuesday between representatives of some European wine regions and reps from Sonoma, Napa, plus Oregon and Washington as well . The topic was regional (geographical) names, and how they get used around the world to describe a style of wine – thus diluting the geographic name (read: appellation) of the original product.
Here’s a link to the
article on

The "Napa Declaration" - as they've named it - is a "beginning of a campaign to “fortify the sanctity” of the names used for their products "...
Sanctity? Am I the only one who thinks that's a little overboard?
Has the original Swiss cheese disappeared form the face of the earth because people in the Midwest started making cheese in the same style? Sanctity?!...get real, it's more like sanctimonious.

(And they can sign all the 'declarations' they want. These groups aren't the ones who need to sign - it's the smaller less known regions which are trying to trade on the more successful regions' reputation that need to be brought into line, right? Where's the economic incentive for them to change - or is it assumed these changes will be embraced by all, without any conflict?...)

The most obvious case for their point is the use of the term ‘champagne’ to describe sparkling wine.
Here in the States - some reports claim – more than half of the sparkling wine produced is mislabeled as ‘champagne’. Most (though certainly not all) of that probably carries the term ‘California Champagne’ on the label…which begs the question: did the term ‘champagne’ become synonymous with the style of the product, and not the geographical area of it’s origin? Hasn’t it been so associated for the last, say, century?

Certainly wines exist labeled as ‘sparkling wine’ with a ‘methode champenoise’ production statement on them, and I concede that this may be more politically correct – though tedious and tiresome - way to state what’s in the bottle. (Though that descriptor is helpful in that it distinguishes from products produced by the charmat bulk process…)

I mused on this matter when Fred Franzia lost the battle to continue using his Napa Ridge label for wines which weren’t from the Napa appellation.
And somehow it troubles me – when is protecting the name of your area more important than acknowledging that people have applied that moniker to an entire class, and not just currently, but historically? Isn’t there some point in time which the term becomes ‘grandfathered’ into the language through the assimilation process? Haven't XEROX ("photocopy"), Coke ("cola") and others who became so successful that their brand names became the ubiquitous terms used by millions for an entire type or class of product still manage to be profitable?
If that's not the case - then Gallo was right to sue the Chanti region of Tuscany, Italy, to stop them from using the ‘GalloNero’ (black rooster) on their wines in the US – just ‘cuz it had ‘gallo’ in the name...
Now, I don't agree that Gallo should have brought that case to court, but in the end I’m still torn on the matter. But I don’t really see the need for this topic to even come up if the product is prominently labeled with the region it was produced in: it would then be hard (if not downright stupid) to assume it was from any other region. Yet there are blatant occurrences where people have tried to pass off one product as another, which should not be allowed.

Examples where I don’t think it’s needed:
California Champagne [obviously refers to the style and is from ‘California’], California Port, Sherry, Marsala [same again]
California (or Wisconsin) Cheddar - yes it’s a food, but the same principle applies as it refers to a style of cheese, and no one’s really going to think it’s from Cheddar, England, are they? I mean if it says ‘California’ or ‘Wisconsin’ right on the label!? Duh…!

(read more on the EU "PDO" drive here...)

"Hearty Burgundy" will be forced to change...not that it would affect me, even though we all know it's not Burgundian.

Perhaps those changes will occur over time. After all, it’s been years since anyone sought out a wine labeled as ‘California Chablis’…and perhaps it will take a generation of wine drinkers to forget the transgressions of our forefathers and their labeling/marketing practices. In the end perhaps we could move away from it now & hope that someday everything will be politically correct.

But just to be fair…I hope the US contingent made sure the EU gang stops labeling their Primitivo as Zinfandel…
That’d show ‘em.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what are you saying, that the French should give up centuries of tradition and let just anyone use the Champagne designation? How do you separate a geographic region like Napa from Chianti?

July 28, 2005 9:20 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

First - I think that the time for fighting such battles is when they are happening - not several centuries after the fact.
By this time, the whole World's had it's way with the term 'champagne'.

Second - 'Chianti' has become a synonym in a broader sense for the style of wine that is produced in that area. 'Napa' does not have an association with a singular definitive style (yet). Perhaps in another hundred years that will be the case, but for this moment, it's not, and remains solely a geographic indicator.

The problem arises when the two (style and appellation) are interchangeably used. But in the States we don't do that...we describe wines with varietal AND appellation.

Hope that clears up my point of view. Thanks for the questions.


July 28, 2005 11:12 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Let’s not get carried away with the purpose of the declaration. From my understanding, this is not a group of wine regions advocating for a change in the law or demanding that certain producers refrain from using certain appellations on their labels. Rather, it focuses on drawing attention to this issue and highlighting the importance of location as it relates to the unique qualities of a particular wine. What I think is noteworthy about this event is that it marks the first time each of these regions has come together to put this issue on the table. This collaboration between regions and countries shows that while there may be an extensive history on the issue, there is a growing number of people concerned with accurate labeling, which will continue to exert pressure on those that blatantly mislabel their wines. As a consumer, I want to know as much as possible about where my wine comes from as it affects the price, quality and a range of other factors and I think others probably feel the same.

August 03, 2005 11:11 AM  

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